Wandel exits CBH battle ground

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
CBH Chairman elect Wally Newman and chairman Neil Wandel.
Camera IconCBH Chairman elect Wally Newman and chairman Neil Wandel. Credit: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

Neil Wandel has agreed to stand down as chairman of CBH after a series of what he described as "robust" board discussions about his future.

Mr Wandel will continue in the chair of the Australia's biggest co-operative until August when he hands over to Wally Newman.

The Esperance grain grower denied he was pushed after six years as chairman and almost 12 on the board. CBH faces a watershed decision on investing in grain storage and handling infrastructure on the east coast.

"The board have good robust discussions on a lot of issues and that (my future) was one of them," Mr Wandel said.

"There was some discussion along those lines but in the end it was my decision. There are still some things I want to achieve in the next four or five years before I get into the caravan stage."

Mr Newman's rise to chairman-elect was finalised during a board meeting at the CBH headquarters in West Perth yesterday.

There has been intense speculation about Mr Wandel's future amid claims of a shift in the balance of power on the board following the election of Rod Madden in February.

Speaking before taking up his seat, Mr Madden attacked plans to invest in the Eastern States and described the board as "messy" and subject to "in-fighting".

Mr Wandel said CBH would make a decision on plans for the Eastern States, where CBH has a stake in the Newcastle Agri- Terminal, in June.

Mr Newman, who farms at Newdegate, has been on the board since 2000 and was deputy chairman from 2008 until 2012.

He denied the board was split and said he would work closely with Mr Wandel to ensure a smooth transition.

Mr Newman said he was a strong supporter of CBH diversifying its investments to reduce reliance on income from grain production in WA.

"We have millions of dollars in assets and unless we leverage off those asset and invest in other income streams to diversify our reliance on grain production out of WA, we will always have the problem of having low-income years. The aim is have other income flows so it evens out," he said.

Mr Wandel's decision to stand down as chairman and then leave the board when his term expires at the end of this year comes with CBH on target to make a profit of more than $160 million in 2014.

It made a record $162.5 million profit in 2012 and $131.7 million last year.

Mr Wandel said he was proud to leave the co-operative, which is run by a board of nine grower-elected director and three independent directors, in good shape.

He cited guiding CBH through deregulation of the grains industry; bedding down the members' commitment to the co-operative business model; the historic $175 million investment in rail rolling stock; and the annual base expenditure of $85 million on the WA storage and handling network as highlights of his chairmanship.

GRAIN REIGN 12 The number of years, including six as chairman, Neil Wandel served on the CBH board

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