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Why the BlueScope Steel Limited CEO his selling his shares

The long-serving CEO of BlueScope Steel Limited (ASX: BSL), Paul O’Malley, is gearing up for his departure as he unloads his stock in the company.

Mr O’Malley, who has been at the helm of BlueScope for a decade, has sold more than $13.5 million worth of BlueScope stock in the last couple of years, cashing in more than $8 million in October alone.

At this stage it looks as though Mr O’Malley will leave on a high note, having led the company through some pretty dismal times where the stock price slumped to below $1.60 about five years ago.

BlueScope shares closed on Thursday at $13.38 and while Mr O’Malley has been selling BlueScope stock, it appears the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA) has been buying into Australia’s biggest steel producer.

In what was arguably a sign that investors had placed a lot of faith in Mr O’Malley, news of his imminent departure in August was accompanied by a rapid decline in BlueScope stock which shed about 20% of its value.

It was possibly a strong reaction to Mr O’Malley’s departure and the share price is yet to return to the $14.11 it was trading at in the lead up to the announcement.

However, it should be noted that news of Mr O’Malley’s departure came amid a softer outlook for financial year 2018 and allegations of price fixing prompting an investigation by the competition watchdog, the ACCC.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to understate the significance the impact top management can have on a company and the influence those managers have on the perceptions held by investors.

Although Mr O’Malley is set to step down in December, he is expected to continue to work with BlueScope in an advisory capacity.

And with Mark Vassella, who has been with BlueScope since its acquisition of Smorgon Steel Distribution in 2007, stepping up to assume the position of CEO, it seems shareholders can expect a smooth transition.

Mr Vassella, who holds a Bachelor of Commerce and an MBA, got his start in the steel industry as a cadet with BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP) in the 1980s

Mr Vassella was appointed Chief Executive of BlueScope Australia and New Zealand in 2011.

He leads all major operations in Australia and New Zealand including the Company’s key operations at Port Kembla and Western Port, and New Zealand Steel, according to BlueScope.

Mr Vassella was also President of BlueScope Steel North America.

He will receive about $1.8 million in fixed pay plus incentives for his new position with the company.

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