Carlsberg CEO Hart to retire after wrapping up Russia exit
By Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Anna Ringstrom
COPENHAGEN/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -Carlsberg's Chief Executive Cees 't Hart will retire at the end of September, the Danish brewer said on Tuesday, after he has seen through the sale of its Russian business.
Hart, the main architect behind Carlsberg's strategic shift from Russia towards China and a bet on prioritising price over volume, was hired in 2015, partly to help restore sluggish sales in its Eastern Europe brewing business.
During his eight years in charge he has successfully focused on cutting costs and improving sales of premium beers to compete with its larger rivals Heineken and AB Inbev.
Carlsberg shares have risen more than 60% during Hart's tenure, outperforming AB Inbev and Heineken, whose shares have dropped around 47% and risen around 45% respectively.
"He has done a very good job of stabilizing profits and taking out risk at Carlsberg," Nordnet analyst Per Hansen said after the Danish brewer said in a statement that Hart planned to leave by the end of the third quarter.
Carlsberg's shares fell 3.5% at market open in Copenhagen, but later pared losses and were 0.7% lower at 1118 GMT.
"Given his strong track record and the lack of a clear successor, we see today's news as negative," JP Morgan analysts said in a note.
"Cees 't Hart has delivered remarkable results during his time at Carlsberg," Supervisory Board Chair Henrik Poulsen said.
Hart's departure, which came earlier than analysts had expected, will be the third exit among the brewer's top brass within a year, after former chair Flemming Besenbacher retired in March and ex-CFO Heine Dalsgaard left in December.
Carlsberg, the Western brewer most exposed to Russia, said last year it expected a writedown of about 9.9 billion Danish crowns ($1.43 billion) after announcing a sale of its business in the country as a result of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
"Staying on board for another half a year will allow me and the team to continue delivering on our challenging plans for 2023 and accomplishing the sale of the Russian business before the summer," said Hart, who was born in 1958.
Carlsberg said it expects to have found a buyer and signed an agreement by June. It is also seeking an option to buy back the Russian business in the future.
With only around 16% of revenue coming from Eastern Europe, Carlsberg's biggest markets are Western Europe and Asia.
While Carlsberg did not divulge details about the search for Hart's successor, it has "a good track record of bringing in external talent," Jefferies analysts said in a note.
Hart joined Carlsberg from Dutch dairy company Royal FrieslandCampina, while its current CFO Ulrica Fearn, who joined in January, was CFO for Norwegian energy company Equinor.
Jefferies analysts said they did not expect a change in CEO to cause a major shift from the firm's existing strategy.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom and Nikolaj Skydsgaard, additional reporting by Johannes Birkebaek; Editing by Terje Solsvik, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Alexander Smith)