New Zealand infant formula business Synlait Milk has announced CEO and founder John Penno is to step down from his position in the next 12 months.

It said the move is “part of an orderly transition to position Synlait for its next phase of growth”.

Penno has been the CEO and managing director of Synlait for 12 years, and a founder of Synlait five years before that. It is expected he will remain a director of the firm.

Graeme Milne, Synlait chairman, said: “John has been an exceptional leader for Synlait, but there was always going to be a time when he would move on to fresh challenges. I am glad John’s decision has come at a time where we can provide a well-managed leadership transition. The company is in very healthy shape with a strong balance sheet and a clear future growth plan.

“The board is embarking on an international search for the right person to lead the business into the future, and John has committed to continuing in the role of CEO until a successor is found and in place.”

Synlait has grown from a start-up in the early 2000s to a profitable company listed on the NZX and ASX exchanges with 600 staff,. 

“From this platform, the company is looking for a CEO with the skills and experiences to take Synlait up another level. We have already signalled to shareholders our intention to continue to develop our infant formula business, and enter new categories where there are significant opportunities,” Milne said.

Penso said: “After 17 years of living and breathing this company, it is time to move on, but I share the board’s intention for me to continue as a director of Synlait Milk.

“There will be very clear processes to ensure the incoming CEO has the freedom and scope to make her or his mark on Synlait’s future, and I’m looking forward to taking a supporting role.

“Once the new CEO is in place, I am looking forward to getting back to my entrepreneurial roots and will be looking for opportunities to get involved with start-ups and young companies, which is where my wife, Maury, and I want to continue to make a contribution.”