PARIS, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Louis Dreyfus Co (LDC) has launched a sweeping cost-cutting plan in the latest attempt to revive profits at the 168-year-old family-owned firm, one of the world’s largest agricultural commodity merchants.
The initiative, including temporary measures to curb travel and staff costs, suggests pressures are building at the group after a decade under the control of Margarita Louis-Dreyfus. 2009 Robert Louis-Dreyfus, head of the group and great-grandson of founder Leopold Louis-Dreyfus, dies in July. His wife, Russian-born Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, inherits control of the group through the Akira family trust created by Robert. 2010 Margarita Louis-Dreyfus and Chief Executive Jacques Veyrat study options for bringing in outside investors to help fund expansion. Merger talks are held with Singapore-based commodity group Olam International.
2011 LDC and Olam break off merger talks. LDC also considers a stock market listing and a merger deal with diversified commodity giant Glencore, according to media reports. Margarita Louis-Dreyfus and Jacques Veyrat announce in an interview with French business daily Les Echos that Veyrat is leaving the group. Serge Schoen, in charge of LDC’s main commodity trading business, becomes CEO. 2012 Family minority shareholders ask to sell a 15% stake in LDC’s holding company, exercising an option established by Robert Louis-Dreyfus allowing them to sell shares to the Akira trust during a 15-year period starting in 2012. LDC issues its first-ever bond. It sets out plans to increase investments by 40% in the coming five years compared with the previous five years. LDC sells an energy trading business it jointly owned with bank JPMorgan, coming after a first round of energy asset sales the previous year.
2013 LDC announces a record net profit of $1 billion for 2012 as erratic weather and growing global demand boost earnings for crop traders. Serge Schoen resigns after eight years as head of the commodities business. He is replaced by head trader Ciro Echesortu. Schoen remains on the company’s board. LDC makes two more bond issues. 2014 LDC reports much lower profits for 2013 as rising supply and stiffening competition hit margins. Margarita Louis-Dreyfus tells the Financial Times she would consider a share listing or a tie-up with a partner, saying she will keep options open about the group’s capital - a phrase she will use on several occasions.
Ciro Echesortu steps down as CEO after only a year, taking on a strategy role. Chief Financial Officer Claude Ehlinger becomes interim CEO.
LDC names Mayo Schmidt, a former head of Canadian grain handler Viterra, as its new CEO before cancelling the appointment days before Schmidt was due to take up the post. CFO Ehlinger continues as interim CEO. 2015 Margarita Louis-Dreyfus announces she has raised her stake in the group’s holding company to 80% from 65%, after agreeing terms on the sale option exercised by other family members. Minority family members then exercise their sale option again by asking Akira to buy another 16.6%. LDC ends its long hunt for a CEO by appointing former Asia head Gonzalo Ramirez Martiarena. CFO Ehlinger leaves the group. 2016 Ramirez confirms the group is seeking partners to invest in some activities such as fertiliser distribution, as the group reports a decade-low net profit of $211 million for 2015. Former CEO Schoen leaves the group. Armand Lumens, a former executive with oil company Shell, becomes the group’s fourth CFO in just over a year. 2017 Margarita Louis-Dreyfus and minority shareholders agree to go to arbitration to settle the second share sale. LDC’s global head of grains, David Ohayon, leaves the firm with several other traders. They later set up a grain desk at Sierentz Global Merchants, a commodity firm owned by Louis-Dreyfus family members not involved in the LDC group. LDC agrees to sell its profitable metals trading business to a Chinese investment fund for more than $400 million. 2018 The group announces in September the departure of CEO Ramirez and CFO Lumens. Company veteran Ian McIntosh is named CEO.
The sudden leadership shake-up combined with lower first-half profits causes a spike in LDC’s bond yields. The interim results also cause a stir as they show a $411 million dividend and a $1 billion loan to the holding firm to cover a bailout of Brazilian sugar subsidiary Biosev. Margarita Louis-Dreyfus announces she has secured a bank loan to cover the buyout of minority shares. 2019 Margarita Louis-Dreyfus concludes the second buyout of minority shares, taking her stake in the holding firm to 96%. LDC later says it could sell a stake in its capital to a regional player. As part of a focus on Asia and food distribution, LDC forms an alliance with Chinese retail chain Luckin Coffee Inc.
After a rebound in profits in 2018, first-half results decline and LDC warns the rest of the year will remain tough. It discloses its biggest dividend since 2014. It introduces more management changes, including making coffee chief Michael Gelchie its new COO, and announces internally plans to cut costs, including immediate steps to curb personnel costs.
Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Dale Hudson