First Solar operations chief Sohn departs

LOS ANGELES Wed Apr 13, 2011 7:25pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - First Solar Inc's president of operations, Bruce Sohn, will leave the world's most valuable solar company at the end of April and will not be replaced, the company said on Wednesday.

Sohn, who has steered technology and operations and managed the supply chain for First Solar since becoming president in 2007, will pursue opportunities outside of the company, First Solar said in a statement.

"He was a pretty significant figure at the company," Wedbush analyst Christine Hersey said. "He was a key part of their manufacturing operations as well as their executive team. It's certainly a loss for the company."

Sohn's departure was a mutual decision between the executive and the company, spokesman Ted Meyer said.

"Bruce and I have taken stock of his considerable achievements and we have agreed this is a natural time for him to pursue new opportunities outside the company," Chief Executive Rob Gillette said in the statement.

Sohn's departure marks the second major executive shift in as many months. In March, First Solar appointed Mark Widmar its new finance chief, replacing interim Chief Financial Officer James Zhu.

First Solar's executive team has shifted markedly in the last couple of years.

Most significantly, longtime CEO Mike Ahearn abandoned the company's top post in late 2009. Earlier this year, he became chairman after having served as executive chairman since Gillette joined the company as CEO from Honeywell Aerospace in October of 2009.

Shortly after Gillette joined the company, he named former Honeywell Aerospace colleague TK Kallenbach as executive vice president of marketing and product management.

The company's previous marketing head, John Carrington, had left First Solar earlier that year.

One familiar figure remains in the company's executive lineup. Jens Meyerhoff, who was First Solar's CFO prior to Zhu's interim stint, has served as president of its utility systems business since July of last year.

According to the company, several executives who reported directly to Sohn will now report directly to Gillette. They include Tymen DeJong, senior vice president of operations, Doug Duval, vice president of supply chain, Heinrich Eichermueller, senior vice president of plant replication, and Jim Lannon, senior vice president of engineering, procurement and construction.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom and Edwin Chan; Editing by Gary Hill)