Olam, Plexus lose key cotton execs in industry reshuffle

NEW YORK Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:00am EST

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NEW YORK Feb 14 (Reuters) - Senior cotton executives at commodity trader Olam International and mid-sized British merchant Plexus Cotton Ltd. have resigned in recent weeks, as the biggest personnel reshuffle in years continues to upend the industry, sources said.

The last working day of Olam's top U.S. cotton trader, Cameron Austin, is set for Friday. He will join a smaller Australian rival just weeks after the Singapore-based commodity merchant installed Hank Gray as head of its U.S. cotton desk.

Jean-Marc Derossis, managing director of Plexus Cotton Ltd. in the United Kingdom, has resigned with plans to return to the cotton market in the summer, according to sources familiar with the moves.

Senior resignations are relatively rare in the close-knit community, which is dominated by a few big global merchants and in which loyalty is often prized.

Austin and Derossis had worked for their respective employers for almost two decades.

They are the most recent in the biggest wave of trader changes since the cotton market upheaval of 2011 when merchants lost millions due to whipsawing prices and widespread contract defaults by both growers and mills.

The moves come at a crucial time for the volatile cotton market amid concerns about long-term demand as Beijing unwinds its years-long stockpiling policy and competition with lower-priced synthetic fiber remains fierce.

A spokeswoman for Olam declined to comment on Thursday during the quiet period ahead of its quarterly earnings release early Friday morning.

OLAM, NOBLE AND ECOM

Austin, an Australian and based in Texas, joined Olam as part of its acquisition of Australia's Queensland Cotton in 2007. He had been at Queensland since 1996 starting out as a risk assistant, according to his Linkedin profile.

Gray came from Noble, which has hired John King from Switzerland's Ecom Agroindustrial Corp Ltd, sources said. King had been at Ecom since 1996 and was most recently manager of central/eastern United States, according to LinkedIn.

A spokesman for Noble declined to comment. Ecom did not respond to a request for comment.

Austin will join Australian grower and merchant Brighann Cotton Marketing to run its U.S. business, as it seeks to expand and diversify supplies to China, the world's top consumer, Brighann's general manager Ian McDonald told Reuters.

Brighann, which is based in Moree in New South Wales, sells cotton to mills in China, Thailand and Japan. Hiring Austin marks a return to the United States where it was roiled by wild prices in 2011.

Derossis, a 39-year old Frenchman, left Plexus in recent weeks after a 17-year career. He started out trading West African cotton and was promoted to managing director in 2009.

Plexus Chairman and founder Nick Earlam confirmed Derossis' resignation in an email on Thursday but did not say on whether he will be replaced.

In a message on his Linkedin profile, Derossis said he will be back in the cotton business towards the end of July, "tasked with a very exciting new challenge."

He lives in Liverpool, the traditional hub of global cotton trading and Plexus' headquarters.

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