WHITEHAVEN COAL'S managing director, Tony Haggarty, will retire next month after an "annus horribilis" since the merger with Nathan Tinkler's Aston Resources.
Mr Haggarty, who made a fortune building and selling Excel Coal to Peabody for $2 billion in 2006, will be replaced by a non-executive director, Paul Flynn, who was appointed to the board last May as a Tinkler Group representative.
But Mr Flynn, an accountant who was a managing partner at Ernst & Young for more than a decade before running Tinkler Group for a year, quickly "went native" on the Whitehaven board. At the company's annual meeting in November, Mr Tinkler voted his 19.4 per cent stake against all resolutions including Mr Flynn's re-election, and Mr Flynn told the meeting there had been a natural "parting of the ways".
Mr Haggarty said on Thursday Mr Flynn "used to be" a Tinkler representative but if the board had any concerns "he wouldn't have been offered the job ... he is 100 per cent independent and the board's totally convinced of that".
Whitehaven's chairman, Mark Vaile, would not comment on whether Mr Flynn's appointment heralded a rapprochement with Mr Tinkler. The company's last direct engagement with Tinkler Group was late last year, he said, and there had since been "no approaches, or otherwise we would have alerted the market to that".
Whitehaven shares slumped 19¢ or 6 per cent to $2.94 even though Mr Haggarty indicated after the Aston merger he would not remain CEO indefinitely, and the succession planning process was announced in October.
Mr Flynn's succession follows a series of new management appointments at Whitehaven in recent months, including Jamie Frankcombe as head of operations, Brian Cole to lead project delivery and Jonathan Vandervoort to handle infrastructure.
Whitehaven has been on a roller-coaster ride since the Aston merger, partly because of uncertainty created by Mr Tinkler - with his unsuccessful privatisation bid last July and campaign against the board - and partly due to weak coal markets, ramp-up troubles at the Narrabri underground mine, a train derailment, the activist Jonathan Moylan's hoax press release, speculation of a merger with China's Shenhua and uncertainty over the approval of the Maules Creek project.
Mr Haggarty said he had enjoyed "every minute" of his time at Whitehaven although "the drama with Tinkler and the nonsense with the Greens is all non-productive and frustrating".