Trafigura Power Broker Who Showjumped in Olympics Is Leaving

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Jose Larocca competes in an equestrian jumping event in Chile in 2023.

For decades, one of the most powerful figures in global commodity trading has been a behind-the-scenes dealmaker with a second career in Olympic showjumping.

Jose Larocca, the longtime head of oil at Trafigura Group, was one of the company’s earliest employees and for years has helped steer the commodity giant, together with Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Weir and then-Chief Operating Officer Mike Wainwright.

The Argentine’s retirement, announced Friday alongside the planned exit of Chief Financial Officer Christophe Salmon, extends a period of leadership flux at one of the world’s largest energy and metals traders. Larocca’s departure will also leave Weir as the sole remaining member of the top leadership trio who took over after the death of founder Claude Dauphin. (Wainwright last year announced his own plans to retire and is facing charges in Switzerland over allegations of corruption.)

Jose Larocca competes in an equestrian jumping event in Chile in 2023.Photographer: Claudio Santana/Getty Images

Current and former employees describe Larocca as a powerful figure who, like his mentor Dauphin, eschewed publicity but behind the scenes played a central role in many of the company’s key deals.

Larocca oversaw Trafigura’s oil business as it grew to become the second-largest independent trader, behind only Vitol Group, helping drive record profits of more than $7 billion in each of the last two years. As one of the company’s largest shareholders, he will probably retire as a billionaire.

But the oil business that he helmed since 2007 is also the source of some of Trafigura’s biggest headaches. The company pleaded guilty last week to corruption charges in the US, admitting it had paid bribes to officials at Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras between 2003 and 2014. It has also been charged in Switzerland with paying bribes to an Angolan oil official between 2009 and 2011.

Larocca wasn’t accused of wrongdoing in either the US or Swiss case. However, he was named as a defendant, alongside Wainwright, other Trafigura executives and the company itself, in an earlier Brazilian civil case in 2020 that covered similar accusations of bribery to the US case. Trafigura at the time denied that Larocca or any of its current executives had been involved in wrongdoing.

Brazilian public prosecutors have confirmed to the courts that neither Wainwright nor Larocca are the subject of any criminal case in Brazil, a Trafigura spokesperson said on Friday. 

“Regarding the civil case, it is being vigorously contested but is currently suspended in the Brazil courts,” the spokesperson said. “Neither Jose or Mike have been served under the civil proceedings.”

Passion for Horseriding

In an email to colleagues on Friday, Larocca said he had been discussing his retirement with Trafigura’s board for some time. He denied that the company’s guilty plea in the US corruption case had any connection with his departure.

“Given the timing, there will no doubt be some speculation and so I also want to be clear that my decision to retire has no connection to any legal matters including the company’s recent resolution with the US Department of Justice,” he said.

Instead, he focused on his passion for horseriding, which has seen him compete in four Olympic games with plans to make the Paris games this summer his fifth. His best result to date was in Rio in 2016, when Argentina came 10th in the team showjumping.

Jose Larocca on the podium following an equestrian jumping event in Peru in 2019.Photographer: Raul Sifuentes/Getty Images

“As many of you know, I will be competing at this year’s Olympics in Paris and I plan to spend more of my time over the next four months on preparation,” he wrote in the email.

Larocca started working for Trafigura in London in 1994, just a year after it had been started by Dauphin and a handful of other disaffected former employees of Marc Rich, the founder of what is today Glencore Plc. He joined a smoke-filled office of just a few people as a junior employee on Trafigura’s deals desk.

A favorite of Dauphin, he rose through the ranks as an oil products trader with a specialism in gasoline and naphtha, before he was appointed global head of oil in 2007.

When Weir — whose background was in metals trading — was picked by Dauphin as his successor, oil trader Larocca and operations chief Wainwright rounded out the top trio who were given the task of stewarding the company after its larger-than-life founder’s death.

In September last year, Trafigura reorganized its top leadership under a new, slimmed-down executive committee led by Weir and Larocca, who was named executive director, while Ben Luckock became head of oil.

“Trafigura is a partnership and Jose, Mike and I worked closely as an executive team for many years,” Weir said in an email to staff on Friday. “I would like to personally thank Jose for his support and camaraderie throughout the various challenges and opportunities in over two decades of working together.”

His long period at the pinnacle of Trafigura means that Larocca is likely to retire a rich man, particularly after three years in which the company has notched up cumulative profits of $17.5 billion. The individual shareholdings of Trafigura executives are a closely guarded secret, but numerous current and former employees say that alongside Weir and Wainwright, Larocca is one of the company’s largest shareholders.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

By Jack Farchy , Archie Hunter


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