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Commodities Mavericks in Transition: Jose Larocca Retires from Trafigura

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Benjamin Hughes

April 5, 2024 - 16:52 pm

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Commodity Trading Titan Jose Larocca Announces Retirement Amidst Trafigura's Leadership Changes

For many years, the landscape of global commodity trading has been shaped by the often-unseen masterminds who navigated the labyrinth of the market's complex deals. Among these influential figures was Jose Larocca, a veteran in the field known for his pivotal role as the head of oil for Trafigura Group, one of the largest energy and metals traders across the globe. Besides being a formidable force in trading, his dual life saw him soar in the realm of Olympic showjumping, often spotted on podiums at equestrian events, such as the competition he clinched in Peru back in 2019.

Jose Larocca on the podium following an equestrian jumping event in Peru in 2019.

Larocca, a figure of remarkable influence and power within Trafigura, who joined the ranks of the trading giant as one of its earliest employees, is set to retire. His announcement comes alongside the likewise planned withdrawal of Trafigura's Chief Financial Officer, Christophe Salmon. This shift signifies an extension of perceived instability within Trafigura's senior ranks, which commenced after Claude Dauphin, the company's founder, passed away.

Alongside Trafigura's CEO Jeremy Weir and the former Chief Operating Officer Mike Wainwright, Larocca helped navigate the trading colossus. Although Wainwright had previously broadcasted his retirement plans, he has recently been embroiled in legal disputes, facing corruption allegations in Switzerland. Larocca's exit from Trafigura adds to a significant phase of transformation and leaves Weir as the only remaining figure from the trio that commanded the company after Dauphin's death.

Despite maintaining a low profile akin to his mentor Dauphin, Larocca was instrumental behind the scenes, executing many of the company's critical transactions. He supervised Trafigura's oil operations, driving the business to stellar successes, with the company recording profits surpassing $7 billion in the previous two fiscal years. Renowned as one of the main shareholders, Larocca's impending retirement is likely to be as a billionaire.

The oil division that Larocca presided over since 2007, however, is also at the crux of some contentious issues for Trafigura. In recent events, the company acknowledged its involvement in a US corruption case, confessing to the distribution of bribes aimed at officials within Brazil's state-controlled oil conglomerate, Petrobras, spanning from 2003 to 2014. This revelation was echoed in Switzerland, where the company faced similar charges related to an Angolan oil official between 2009 and 2011.

Though these cases have cast shadows, Larocca himself faced no direct accusations in either the US or Swiss legal affairs. However, a Brazilian civil case in 2020 did list him as a defendant, alongside Wainwright, other executives, and Trafigura itself, concerning allegations that paralleled those in the US. Trafigura refuted any involvement of Larocca or any other current executives in such misconduct.

In light of these proceedings, Brazilian prosecutors have assured the courts that neither Wainwright nor Larocca are targets of any criminal investigation in Brazil. A Trafigura spokesperson responded to the civil case, affirming its vigorous contestation, stating that currently, the case in Brazil is halted, and neither Jose nor Mike have received summons regarding the civil proceedings.

Rather than the legal issues, Larocca elects to highlight his love for horseriding. In his valedictory email to colleagues, he adamantly dissociated the company's admission of guilt in the US corruption case from his decision to retire. He emphasized that his retirement has been in the planning stages with Trafigura's board and is untethered to any legal entanglements, including the recent settlement with the US Department of Justice.

Larocca attributed his departure to a disciplined dedication to horseriding—an endeavor that took him to four Olympic Games, with aspirations for the Paris Olympics to become his fifth participation. In 2016, during the games in Rio de Janeiro, Larocca and the Argentinian team vaulted to a commendable tenth in team showjumping, marking his most notable Olympic performance.

Larocca embarked on his journey with Trafigura over a quarter-century ago in 1994 in London, just a year after its inception by Dauphin and a small group of former employees of Marc Rich, who founded what eventually became Glencore Plc. Beginning his tenure in a modest, smoke-filled office, he was initially employed as a junior on the deals desk, climbing the ranks within the company.

Witnessing Trafigura's transformation, Larocca garnered Dauphin's favor, subsequently advancing as an oil products trader, proficient in gasoline and naphtha before securing his seat as the global head of oil in 2007. His ascent coincided with Weir, who hailed from a background in metals trading and was chosen by Dauphin to be his successor. The triumvirate, with Larocca's trade expertise, Wainwright's operations savvy, and Weir's leadership, then carried the mantle of steering Trafigura post its illustrious founder's demise.

Trafigura underwent a restructuring of its upper echelon in September of the previous year, establishing an executive committee, streamlined and spearheaded by Weir and Larocca, who was appointed executive director, while Ben Luckock assumed the role of head of oil. Weir, in an email on Friday, imparted a personal acknowledgment, lauding Larocca for his steadfast support and camaraderie through multifaceted challenges and opportunities during their over twenty years of collaboration.

Concluding an extensive stint at the apex of Trafigura, Larocca's impending farewell suggests a lucrative culmination to his career, particularly following three years wherein the company tallied a cumulus profit of $17.5 billion. The exact figures of Trafigura executives' stakes remain confidential; yet it is widely posited by many employees, past and present, that Larocca, alongside Weir and Wainwright, ranks amongst the principal shareholders of the company.

As the era of Jose Larocca's stewardship draws to a close, the commodity trading world anticipates witnessing how Trafigura will evolve beyond the influence of one of its foundational pillars. His legacy concretizes not only within the corridors of the trading behemoth but also in the sands of equestrian arenas where his Olympic aspirations soared. Through the fluctuations of the market and the grace of horseback, Larocca has etched a narrative of resounding success and leaves behind a figure of inspiration for a generation of traders and sports enthusiasts alike.

As this chapter ends, the eyes of the industry now pivot to Weir and the remaining leadership at Trafigura, who are tasked with anchoring the company amidst the high seas of a competitive and ever-changing global market. How they chart this course will be instrumental in sustaining Trafigura's place as a titanic force in the commodities world, building upon the robust foundations laid by Larocca and his predecessors.

Larocca's departure signals a profound moment of change not only for him but also for the company that he has been intimately connected with for nearly three decades. His story, interlacing trade with the thrill of showjumping, embodies the spirit of determination and diversity of skills that drive success in both arenas—business and sports. As he prepares for his retirement and the upcoming Olympics, Larocca's twin legacies in trade and equestrian sports will undeniably continue to resonate for years to come.