October 9, 2017 / 11:00 AM / 8 days ago

LafargeHolcim poaches Essilor's finance chief

CEO Eric Olsen (L) and Chairman Beat Hess of Franco-Swiss cement giant LafargeHolcim attend the company's annual shareholder meeting in Zurich, Switzerland May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/Files

ZURICH (Reuters) - LafargeHolcim has poached Geraldine Picaud from French optics maker Essilor International to replace Chief Financial Officer Ron Wirahadiraksa next year, the latest executive shake-up at the world’s biggest cement maker.

Picaud will take over on Feb. 1 at the company created by the merger of France’s Lafarge and Switzerland’s Holcim two years ago.

Wirahadiraksa, who joined LafargeHolcim from Philips in December 2015, is leaving to pursue opportunities outside the group, LafargeHolcim said on Monday, adding his departure was not linked to recent complaints by some analysts about a lack of clarity in one of his presentations.

Picaud’s appointment comes just a month after Jan Jenisch started as CEO of LafargeHolcim, replacing Eric Olsen who stepped down in April after the cement maker admitted it paid armed groups in Syria to keep a plant operating.

Jenisch said Picaud would bring restructuring expertise and experience with complex global businesses.

One person familiar with the matter said Jenisch lobbied hard to lure Picaud from Essilor, and that her French citizenship would help mitigate concerns the company was becoming dominated by Swiss.

“She is the ideal person to join our executive team and drive the next phase of growth in the company,” Jenisch, a German citizen, said in a statement.

An analyst from Bank Vontobel said the move showed former Sika CEO Jenisch was working rapidly to put his stamp on the company.

“As the next steps, we expect Jan Jenisch to simplify the group structure, reduce overhead costs and - just as at Sika - give more responsibilities to the country managers,” wrote Bernd Pomrehn, who rates the stock “buy.”

“He will shift LafargeHolcim’s focus from a pure cost cutting story to a profitable growth story.”

LafargeHolcim shares were up 0.5 percent at 0855 GMT.

Wirahadiraksa last month made a financial presentation in London that prompted some analysts to raise concerns about his “bearish” tone as well as the lack of visibility on any potential change to strategic goals.

A person familiar with discussions over finding a replacement said the presentation was not a decisive factor in his departure, but reinforced LafargeHolcim’s resolve that a change was needed.

Wirahadiraksa will help present third-quarter results on Oct. 27, LafargeHolcim said, declining to give a reason for his departure.

Picaud, 47, is leaving Essilor as the French company grapples with EU antitrust regulators’ concerns over its planned merger with Italy’s Luxottica.

She has been Essilor’s group CFO and member of the executive committee since 2011. She also sits on the board of French trainmaker Alstom, which is merging its operations with Siemens’ rail unit.

Trained as an auditor, Picaud is familiar with Switzerland, having worked at the Winterthur offices of commodity trading house ED&F Man.

($1 = 0.8522 euros)

Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter

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