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Thailand's richest man resigns as chairman of CP's core business

Dhanin takes major step in family-owned group's succession plan

Dhanin Chearavanont, CP group's senior chairman, speaks to Nikkei in a 2016 interview. (Photo by Tomohide Yamaguchi)

BANGKOK -- Thai family-owned conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group has taken an abrupt step toward leadership succession as its senior chairman resigned from its core unit without naming a successor.

Dhanin Chearavanont stepped down as a chairman of Charoen Pokphand Foods on Wednesday. CP Foods' statement said the billionaire -- the country's richest man -- "tendered his resignation due to other businesses refraining [sic] him from performing his duty."

CP Foods is "in the process of selecting a qualified person to fill the vacancy," according to the statement, hinting the company may turn outside the founding family for a successor. In his serial autobiography written for Nikkei in 2016, Dhanin said: "I forbade the children of any of our families from entering CP's core business, namely agricultural and food products. Of course, this included my own sons."

Shares in CP Foods fell 1.9% on Wednesday to 22.24 baht on news of Dhanin's resignation, even as Thailand's benchmark SET index edged up 0.2%.

The news came on the heels of CP Foods' announcement Monday that it would acquire Canadian pork producer HyLife for 498 million Canadian dollars ($370 million), continuing its international expansion.

The resignation marks the biggest step so far in Dhanin's succession plan for the country's largest conglomerate. Dhanin, who turned 80 on April 19, has led the family business since 1969, when he became the group president. Under his leadership Charoen Pokphand ballooned, expanding into retail, telecommunications and other industries.

In January 2017, Dhanin ceded the group chairman's seat to his eldest son, Soopakij Chearavanont, while making his third and youngest son Suphachai Chearavanont the CEO. The elevations were seen as the beginning of the group's leadership succession process.

The group consists of several listed companies. CP All is the sole operator of 7-Eleven convenience stores in Thailand, established in 1988. True Corp. is the country's largest cable TV and internet provider, and one of the three top mobile service operators, founded in 1990. Dhanin's success in a wide range of business fields made him a personal fortune estimated at $17.4 billion. 

But CP Foods, founded in 1978, remains the core of the group, whose early agro-industrial success propelled the expansion into other businesses. This adds symbolical importance to the billionaire's resignation.

Dhanin will remain chairman of CP All and True Corp.

CP Foods' business is globally diversified, with 67% of sales coming from international operations in 2018. The company operates and invests in more than 17 countries, including large markets such as the U.S., China, India and Brazil.

CP Foods had said it expects up to 10% sales growth in 2019 from 542 billion baht ($17 billion) in 2018.

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