Synlait Milk chief executive Leon Clement will leave the dairy manufacturer at the end of this month.
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SUPPLIED/SUPPLIED Synlait Milk chief executive Leon Clement will leave the company at the end of this month.

The company’s former chief executive and co-founder John Penno will step into the role in May until a replacement is found. Penno is on Synlait’s board of directors.

Clement joined the company in September 2018 from Fonterra Cooperative Group, where he was managing director of Fonterra Brands New Zealand.

During his time at Synlait, he has overseen the development of a new factory at Pokeno, a new liquid plant at Dunsandel and spent $150 million to buy cheese companies Talbot Forest Cheese and Dairyworks as the company sought to diversify its products, manufacturing sites and customers.

“Leon has been an authentic and transformational leader,” said chairman Graeme Milne. “He has successfully repositioned Synlait’s purpose, ambition, and strategy to make us a more diversified and sustainable company.”

Synlait’s shares have shed 52 per cent over the past year as the company’s profits fell while it invested in expansion and after sales to its largest customer The a2 Milk Company were crimped by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Milne said the board accepted Clement’s resignation with regret, and it wished to record its thanks and recognition of the major achievements he has overseen.

While no reason was given for the resignation, Milne noted “the substantial impact that Covid-19 has had on Synlait and the difficult challenge this would present to any management team”.

Clement said it had been an intensive period of change and growth and he was proud of the company’s achievements.

Synlait shares closed at $3.50 on Friday, compared with $7.32 a year earlier.

Nominations are open for Fonterra’s board election but a repeat of the drama that rocked the vote three years ago can be ruled out.

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