Chinese pork giant WH Group fires chairman’s son from board over aggressive behaviour

African swine fever, Smithfield Foods, Xiabuxiabu Catering Management (China) Holdings

WH Group, the world’s biggest pork producer, has removed the chairman’s son from the board and terminated his employment, citing his aggressive behaviour against the company.

Wan Hongjian, 52, son of the chairman and CEO Wan Long, 80, was stripped on Thursday of his roles as executive director, deputy chairman and vice-president, based on the company’s “amended and restated” articles of association, it said in a filing to Hong Kong’s bourse.

The company said that Wan was unable to fulfil his duties as a director “due to his recent misconduct of aggressive behaviours against the company’s properties”. It did not elaborate on the circumstances.

“The board considers that the removal of Mr Wan will not have any significant adverse impact on the group’s operations,” the statement said.

African swine fever, Smithfield Foods, Xiabuxiabu Catering Management (China) Holdings

Wan Hongjian, 52, has been removed as executive director, deputy chairman and vice-president of WH Group. Photo: Handout

A company spokeswoman declined to provide details on the nature and type of misconduct or behaviour.

His removal comes less than two weeks after the company said it would set aside nearly HK$15 billion (US$1.93 billion) to buy back 13 per cent of its shares at a premium, as its stock has underperformed the market since last year.

WH Group has been under pressure over the last two years as the Chinese meat processor has struggled with rising pig costs following the outbreak of African swine fever.

Wan Long, who owned 23.34 per cent of the company at the end of last year, is a 52-year veteran of China’s meat processing industry. He turned the former state-owned Henan Luohe Meat Products Processing United Factory into an international giant.

African swine fever, Smithfield Foods, Xiabuxiabu Catering Management (China) Holdings

Wan Long, chairman and CEO of WH Group, attends a press conference to announce the company’s results in Hong Kong, in August 2019. Photo: Jonathan Wong

WH, whose operating base is in Henan province, also owns US-based pork producer Smithfield Foods, which it acquired in 2013.

Wan Hongjian was appointed as an executive director of WH Group in June 2018 and two months later was named deputy chairman. He was responsible for WH’s international trading business before his removal.

Wan Hongjian’s total pay package amounted to US$1 million last year, according to the company’s annual report.

Hong Kong-listed companies can remove directors based on their own articles of associations, which can be amended with the approval of shareholders, said Mike Wong, CEO of Chamber of Hong Kong Listed Companies.

“They can appoint or remove directors according to the rules once they become official and registered at Hong Kong’s Companies Registry,” he said.

This is the second such removal of a high-level director by a well-known mainland Chinese company this week.

On Monday, Beijing-based hotpot restaurant chain Xiabuxiabu Catering Management (China) Holdings said its board decided to convene an extraordinary general meeting to remove Zhao Yi as executive director.

“The board takes the view that the management style and mindset of Ms Zhao are substantially different from that of the other members of the board, and it would not be in the best interest of the company and its shareholders as a whole to allow [her] to continue to take part in [its] management,” it said.

The board had already removed her as CEO last month, citing the performance of certain sub-brands that did not meet its expectation. The firm posted a 99.4 per cent plunge in net profit last year to 1.84 million yuan (US$285,650) from 288 million yuan in 2019, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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