Tue | Jun 19, 2018

Aubyn Hill quits sugar company

Published:Wednesday | October 26, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Aubyn Hill, CEO of SCJ Holdings.
Erwin Burton, chairman of SCJ Holdings, says company will now focus on land management.

Sabrina Gordon, Business Reporter

Aubyn Hill has given notice of his intention to quit as the chief executive officer of SCJ Holdings Limited, effective October 31, saying the company has entered a new phase as a manager of landholdings and no longer needs his expertise as a management consultant.

Hill will also be giving up his position on the board of SCJ Legacy, the vehicle created during the divestment of Sugar Company of Jamaica assets to hold the company's J$18 billion-$19 billion debt, Hill told Wednesday Business. The Jamaican Government has assumed responsibility for the debt.

SCJ Legacy is to be wound up, said the outgoing CEO, at final transfer of the SCJ debt — which the last IMF review suggested would have happened by December 31, 2011.

Before the divestment, SCJ-owned and managed five factories on six sugar estates.

"All the six entities have been divested, so my job is done," Hill said.

He will be succeeded by John Gayle.

The former banker was contracted by SCJ Holdings as CEO in January 2010 after serving as consultant from August 2008. The revelation of his monthly J$1.9 million salary made headlines, forcing the Government to defend his pay.

Hill said Tuesday that his contract ended last year but was extended to finalise the divestments. The last three factories - Bernard Lodge, Monymusk and Frome - were sold to Chinese-owned COMPLANT International for US$9 million, and with that SCJ Holdings has slimmed down from a company managing 2,500 employees, including field workers, to a staff of 24, he said.

Hill, who is a consultant, micro financier and businessman, said SCJ Holdings has become largely a land-management company overseeing the agreements for the sugar lands leased to the new private factory owners.

"He is leaving the company in good grace and has done a tremendous job in divesting the entities," said Erwin Burton, chairman of SCJ Holdings.

The new board for SCJ Holdings, which Burton heads, was appointed on October 18. Other directors include Wentworth Charles as deputy chair, Dr Horace Charoo; Lorris Jarrett; Stephanie Muir; Richard Hector; Kavan Gayle; Archibald Campbell; Patrick McIntosh and George Callaghan.

John Gayle, who will replace Hill as CEO on November 1, has served both the Sugar Company of Jamaica Limited and SCJ Holdings for about 17 years. Hill told Wednesday Business that Gayle's current job as chief operating officer will be merged with his new portfolio.

The COMPLANT deal was struck last year and the transfers finalised in 2011. The Duckenfield factory and estate in St Thomas were sold to Seprod Group and FM Jones Farms, and Long Pond and Hampden sold to the Hussey family-owned Everglades Farm Limited in 2009.

While praised for the successful divestment of the sugar assets, Hill's contract with SCJ Holdings came under scrutiny by the contractor general, who forwarded his findings to the director of public prosecutions, but who in turn found no basis on which to proceed.

Asked about SCJ Holdings' indebtedness, Burton said he did not have the current figures at hand but he told Wednesday Business the majority had been cleared.

Hill said a portion of the debt resulted from the prepayments to SCJ under the forward sale contracts with Eridania and Tate & Lyle, but he, too, said he could not say immediately how much was owed.

Both Hill and Burton dismissed suggestions that the CEO's departure was linked to either his salary or the financial status of SCJ Holdings.

"Absolutely not," said Burton, in response.

"The good thing about the transaction is that the assets are no longer a drain on the resources of the country. Having to keep pumping billion of dollars into keeping those assets was unsustainable," said Burton.

Hill will retain no link with the company and will return to running his private consultancy firm and other business interests, which span renewable energy and microfinance.

His companies include Corporate Strategies Limited, NationGrowth and a solar business run by his son.

With the divestment of the sugar companies and lease of sugar lands, Burton said SCJ Holdings will now become a land. management company for sugar lands still owned by the Government.

"Some lands are not yet leased out but we are seeking tenants for those," he said.

The government owns about 47,000 hectares of sugar lands, 38,000 hectares of which were leased under the divestment programme.

A portion of the remaining 9,000 acres will be developed into housing for sugar workers, while the rest will be available for lease.