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Woelfel steps down at Nova Chemicals, Karran named acting CEO

By: Frank Esposito

May 1, 2014

Longtime petrochemicals veteran Randy Woelfel has stepped down after four years as CEO of Nova Chemicals Corp., one of North America’s largest polyethylene makers.

Woelfel, 59, also will no longer be a board member at Calgary, Alberta-based Nova, officials said in a May 1 news release. He will be replaced by Chief Financial Officer Todd Karran, 50, who has been with Nova for almost 30 years. Karran will serve as acting CEO.

Woelfel and the Nova board “felt that this was the time for Randy to move on to new challenges, and to make a leadership change,” Chairman Khadem Abdulla Al Qubaisi said in the release. Al Qubaisi also serves as managing director of International Petroleum Investment Corp., the state-owned Abu Dhabi firm that bought Nova for $500 million in early 2009.

A Nova spokeswoman said Woelfel and the board “were unable to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement on the terms of a contract extension,” so “both parties decided that now was an appropriate juncture to part.”

Woelfel had been Nova’s CEO since Jan. 1, 2010, when he replaced longtime Nova executive Chris Pappas. Woelfel had spent most of his 37-year petrochemicals career at LyondellBasell Industries and its predecessor firms Basell Holdings, Montell Polyolefins and Shell Oil. Prior to joining Nova, he had been chief operating officer of bioresin maker Cereplast Inc.

The management change was announced a day after Nova reported increased sales and operating profit for the first quarter of 2014. The firm’s sales grew 10 percent to almost $1.4 billion, while operating profit surged almost 19 percent to $344 million.

For full-year 2013, Nova’s sales grew more than 4 percent to almost $5.3 billion. Annual operating profit increased 7 percent to $905 million.

Nova’s PE business had an especially strong first quarter, as sales grew 12.5 percent vs. the year-ago quarter to $655 million. The unit’s operating profit also more than doubled to $151 million. Higher selling prices for PE played a role in this improvement, even as Nova’s PE sales volume in pounds was down 2.5 percent to 855 million pounds for the quarter.

In late 2013, Nova became the first North American firm to use natural gas-based ethane from the Marcellus Shale Basin to make ethylene. Nova is doing so at its ethylene unit in Corunna, Ontario. The firm also is debottlenecking its LDPE works and retrofitting its HDPE operations in Moore, Ontario Those moves are expected to yield a total annual capacity increase of 300-400 million pounds.

Longer-term, Nova plans to build a new LLDPE plant in Joffre, Alberta by 2016 and an additional PE plant at an undetermined location in Ontario or on the U.S. Gulf Coast by 2020.