Prokhorov Proposed as Norilsk Chief

Itar-TassFrom left, former CEO Morozov and his predecessor as Norilsk chief, Prokhorov, meeting miners in Norilsk last year.
The main labor union at Norilsk Nickel has asked the company's board to reappoint billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov as its chief executive.

"Prokhorov has done a lot for our company. His work was very successful, and we want him back because we trust him," Valery Glazkov, head of the All-Russia Union of Nickel, Cobalt and Platinum metalworkers said by telephone Thursday.

Prokhorov stepped down as Norilsk CEO after six years, in March 2007, and was replaced by Denis Morozov.

Morozov was ousted as CEO by the Norilsk board on Monday and replaced by Interros deputy general director Sergei Batekhin. Vladimir Potanin's Interros opposes plans by United Company RusAl, controlled by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, to take over Norilsk.

Glazkov said the company's workers wanted continuity and that changing chief executives led to disruption in strategy. "We do not need the 1990s situation when the CEOs could change three times in a week," Glazkov said.

"Constantly changing the company's general director has already led to delays in implementing production strategy, aging production assets, and a growth in work-related injuries, especially fatal ones," Glazkov's union said in a statement, which was sent to Norilsk board members late Wednesday.

"We want a guarantee that the salaries will continue to grow and all the social guarantees will still be there," Glazkov said Thursday, adding that only Prokhorov could do it.

"It will take Batekhin a couple of years to understand how it all works in Norilsk," Glazkov said.

Prokhorov's spokesman Igor Petrov said Prokhorov was grateful for the union's support and would consider the proposal. "But we must understand that it is not the trade union but the board that votes on the CEO candidacy," Petrov said.

The union had 72,000 members as of 2004, most of them at Norilsk Nickel, the union's web site said.

Interros — whose president, Potanin, was elected as Norilsk board chairman Monday — declined to comment on the union's proposal Thursday.

RusAl, which holds 25 percent of Norilsk, did not respond to requests for comment. RusAl said Tuesday that it doubted that Norilsk's new leadership would represent its interests fairly.

RusAl said it would seek changes at an extraordinary shareholders meeting and called Batekhin someone who had "no meaningful experience in the metals and mining sector and has never served as the CEO of a public company."

Prokhorov, who holds 14 percent of RusAl, is one of the aluminum giant's three representatives on the Norilsk board.

Maxim Semyonovykh, a metals and mining analyst at Alfa Bank, said the situation was more complicated than Glazkov and RusAl portrayed it.

"Prokhorov does know the company better, but when he became the general director he wasn't that experienced either," Semyonovykh said. "In the current situation, diplomatic skills in balancing the two major opposing shareholders to smoothly develop the company will be more important than industry experience."

RusAl will likely not support the candidacy of Prokhorov as CEO, and Prokhorov probably is not interested in the job, Semyonovykh said. "Prokhorov has declared his interests in new projects and innovations, so Norilsk is not interesting for him as a manager anymore."