Cofco International CEO Johnny Chi Named Chairman of Trader

(Bloomberg) -- Cofco International Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Jingtao “Johnny” Chi will become chairman of the global trading arm of China’s biggest food company.

Chi is taking on the chairman role in addition to his CEO role, the Geneva-based trading company said in an emailed statement, after Bloomberg first reported the change. He will replace Patrick Yu who will focus on his role as president and director of Cofco Corp., the parent of Cofco International, the company said. Yu will remain on Cofco International’s board.

Chi is expected to step aside as CEO of Cofco International within the next few months, according to people familiar with the matter. Dong Wei, chairman and executive director of China Agri-Industries Holdings Ltd., another subsidiary of Cofco Corp., is expected to take on the CEO role at Cofco International, most likely before the end of the year, said the people who asked not to be named because the changes haven’t been announced.

The reshuffling of two powerful executives within the Cofco empire shows the company remains set on creating a major agricultural trading house, while also securing food supplies for the world’s most populous country.

Cofco International executives have floated the idea of an initial public offering in the past. However, setbacks including unexpected losses at Nidera BV, the Dutch grain trader that Cofco bought as a part of a $4 billion spending spree, put the plans on hold.

Officials at China Agri and Cofco Corp. did not respond to requests for comment.

Food Focus

Chi took over as Cofco International’s CEO in January 2017 following the departure of Matt Jansen, a high-profile agriculture executive and former trader at Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. Under Chi, Cofco International initially reined in its ambitions for a global expansion to focus on food procurement for the Chinese market.

The expansion plans were revived this year as the company finished a restructuring and hired new executives. Nonetheless, it lost more than $100 million in the first half of this year due to wrong-way bets in agricultural markets, people familiar with the matter said in August.

The expected appointment of Dong as CEO is partially aimed at better integrating the Cofco trading arm with Hong Kong-listed China Agri, on of the people said this week. Shares of China Agri were unchanged at HK$2.53 by the end of trading Thursday. The benchmark Hang Seng index lost 1 percent.

Dong, who joined Cofco in 1993, is also head of the oils and oilseeds unit. The company operates the largest oilseeds processing facilities in Asia with an annual capacity of 21.8 million tons.

Shareholders of Cofco International include Cofco Corp., state-backed investment fund China Investment Corp., private equity firm Hopu Investment Management, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Ltd., Standard Chartered Plc and the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corp.

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