Bunge Ltd.’s new CEO Greg Heckman is Quickly Making His Mark

Bunge Ltd CEO Gregory A. Heckman

Bunge Ltd. has a new CEO: agribusiness veteran Greg Heckman has more than three decades of experience in the agriculture, energy and food processing industries.

Heckman joined the Bunge board in October 2018 and served as acting CEO since January 2019 until he was appointed to the position permanently in April. Heckman previously served as CEO of the Gavilon Group and in senior executive roles at ConAgra Foods.

“I joined the Bunge board because I recognized the significant opportunity to leverage Bunge’s team and global footprint to drive improved operational performance and create shareholder value,” Heckman said. “The last few months spent visiting company facilities and meeting with employees around the world has reinforced and increased my confidence in Bunge’s ability to deliver for our customers, shareholders and partners. We will continue to streamline and focus the business as we position Bunge for the future.”

Founded in 1818, the company now has 31,000 employees worldwide and more than 360 port terminals, oilseed processing plants, grain silos, and food and ingredient production and packaging facilities around the world. Currently Bunge is based in White Plains, N.Y., but the company announced in August that it would be relocating its headquarters to the St. Louis area by mid-2020.

Not long after officially assuming the top post, Heckman announced that Bunge would adopt a new, global operating model, aligned with the company’s commercial activities: handling and processing, managing physical product flows, and risk management and optimization. As a result of the realignment, Bunge reshuffled its senior leadership team.

“Shifting away from our regional, matrix-based structure will simplify the organization and speed up decision making, increasing our strategic flexibility, customer focus and accountability,” Heckman said. “These changes support our strategic priorities: driving operational performance, optimizing the portfolio and strengthening financial discipline.”

In July, Bunge announced an agreement with BP plc to form a 50:50 joint venture that will create a leading bioenergy company in Brazil, one of the world’s largest fast-growing markets for biofuels.

“This partnership with BP represents a major portfolio optimization milestone for Bunge which allows us to reduce our current exposure to sugar milling, strengthen our balance sheet and focus on our core businesses,” Hickman said. “We have a strong, committed partner in BP, as well as flexibility in the medium and long term for further monetization, with full exit potential via an IPO or other strategic route.”

The joint venture, to be called BP Bunge Bioenergia, will operate on a stand-alone basis, with a total of 11 mills located across the Southeast, North and Midwest regions of Brazil. With 32 million metric tonnes of combined crushing capacity per year, the joint venture will have the flexibility to produce a mix of ethanol and sugar. It will also generate renewable electricity—fueled by waste biomass from the sugar cane— through its cogeneration facilities to power all its sites and sell surplus electricity to the Brazilian power grid. BP and Bunge’s assets are largely complementary, with sites in five Brazilian states including three in the key region of São Paulo. The combined business will be ranked the second-largest player in the industry in Brazil by effective crushing capacity.

In September, Bunge announced an agreement to buy 30 percent of Agrofel Grãos e Insumos, an agricultural inputs reseller in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The investment is aligned with Bunge’s strategy to focus on its core businesses, thus strengthening its grain origination position in Brazil, the company said.

Heckman told Reuters in September that improving risk management at the 200-year-old company is a key focus. Bunge posted two quarterly losses in 2018 after it had betted on a quick resolution to the trade war between the U.S. and China—and now Heckman wants to prepare better for unsuspected political vagaries.

“We want to avoid any surprises from stroke-of-the-pen risk,” Heckman said, referring to unforeseen risks such as abrupt government policy shifts or tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The company is improving coordination between its risk management and commercial teams and doing more scenario analysis to make sure that any bets are appropriately weighed against earnings prospects, he said.

“While we have to make certain decisions to manage the inherent risks and protect the margins in our crushing and our distribution and milling assets, we try to absolutely stay out of the way of any big changes that can happen,” Heckman said.

 

He’s No. 67 on Chief Executive and RHR International’s CEO1000 Tracker, a ranking of the top 1,000 public/private companies

 

Headquarters: White Plains, NY

Age: 56

Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, B.S.

First joined company: 2018

Prior to joining Bunge: CEO of the Gavilon Group

Named CEO: 2019

 

 

Katie Kuehner-Hebert: Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than two decades of experience writing about corporate, financial and industry-specific issues. She is based in Running Springs, Calif.