Saskatoon business leaders say they are concerned about the potential implications of what has been described as an “exodus” of senior executives and leaders from the world’s largest fertilizer company’s office in the city.
The Saskatoon StarPhoenix reported last month that all but one of the Nutrien Ltd. executives who report directly to CEO Chuck Magro live outside the province, and most of the company’s operations appear to be run out of Calgary.
Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc.’s former chief executive and chief financial officer left Nutrien this fall, and it has since emerged that multiple other leaders with deep ties to PotashCorp have departed over the last year.
That group includes at least three senior or executive vice-presidents, the highest-ranking employees other than the “named” executives. It’s not clear why all the leaders left, but high-level staffing changes are not uncommon in major mergers.
Local business leaders say that is concerning, not only because of the potential loss of high-paying jobs, but also because a concentration of senior leaders at a corporate office has significant economic and community effects.
Those include the executives’ contributions to other organizations and businesses, and the ability for small- and medium-sized companies to grow around and benefit from a major corporation’s headquarters.
“Head offices are critical. They are critical to a marketplace. The more you have, the more robust your economy is,” said Keith Moen, executive director of the North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA).
“Relatively speaking, in terms of larger metropolitan centres, we don’t have that many. And so we appreciate those that we have and we certainly don’t want to see them go by the wayside,” Moen added.
Greg Yuel, president of PIC Investment Group Inc., which owns stakes in multiple local businesses, suggested Nutrien’s “flight from Saskatchewan will soon gut the talent” from a broad range of firms in the city.
“And the big loser is the small or medium-sized business that would otherwise benefit from the intelligence and experience of those professionals that could make the difference,” Yuel said in an email.
Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce CEO Darla Lindbjerg noted in an interview that the company’s six potash mines in the province will continue contributing to the well-established chain of local suppliers and contractors.
At the same time, she said, the loss of “key positions” — which come with high salaries and prominence within the city — would affect any local economy, particularly one the size of Saskatoon’s.
“That’s something that needs to be taken into account during the discussions that are had between the province and Nutrien,” she said, referring to a meeting this week between Premier Scott Moe and Nutrien’s CEO and board chair.
The meeting is a response to growing concern at the highest levels of the provincial government about the company’s head office, which legislation dictates must be in Saskatchewan but appears to be effectively in Calgary.
Those concerns were first raised more than a year ago, when then-Premier Brad Wall said he expected Nutrien to adhere to the legislation and ensure that its head office was “indisputably” in Saskatchewan.
Nutrien declined to comment. The company has previously committed to build a new office tower in Saskatoon, at the River Landing development, and hire more people to fill corporate positions.
While Moe has been criticized for failing to adopt his predecessor’s firm stance, both Moen and Lindbjerg expressed optimism about the upcoming meeting — the details of which Nutrien and the government have refused to confirm.
“I don’t anticipate that they won’t look at that in the future,” Lindbjerg said. “It’s good for the company, and it’s good for the business to have key people located right where a lot of your resources are.”