DuPont CEO Exit Triggers Breakup Debate

DuPont's chairwoman and chief executive Ellen Kullman has stepped down. Agriculture is DuPont's largest business, accounting for about a third of its $35 billion in sales last year. Kullman narrowly defeated Peltz's efforts to win board seats at DuPont in May, but the New York investor has retained his stake in the company and warned he could fight for further changes if things don't improve. DuPont, which has been in an ongoing battle with activist investor Nelson Peltz, said this week that its chief executive Ellen Kullman will retire Oct. 16 after nearly three decades with the Delaware-based company. DuPont’s series of massive earnings misses led to the “mutual decision” for Ms. Kullman to “retire” at age 59.

Edward Breen, a member of DuPont's board of directors who once oversaw the breakup of diversified manufacturer Tyco International, will take over as interim chairman and CEO while the board searches for a full-time replacement.

“The buzz is definitely all about (a possible split)," Matt Arnold, a St. Louis-based analyst at Edward D. Jones & Co., said Tuesday. “That’s why the stock is up so much today. There are people that obviously see value in it and they are buying the shares because they see a breakup as being a catalyst.”

Arnold said one of the first jobs of DuPont's new CEO will be to determine whether a split makes sense for the company and defend that decision to shareholders. While a breakup is far from certain, it comes amid a backdrop of a slumping agricultural economy that has squeezed farm income and forced producers to cut back on seed, fertilizer, equipment and other inputs for their operations. Separating Pioneer from DuPont could leave the unit more active in either expanding its business by giving it more freedom to purchase other companies, or leaving it more vulnerable to being acquired itself, analysts have said.

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December 23, 2020

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