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Ex Governors Takeover Battle

The entrance to Stillwater Mining Co. mine in Nye in November 2012.

BILLINGS – The chief executive of Montana’s largest publicly traded company retired Friday in the wake of a corporate shake-up led by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The retirement of Frank McAllister after 12 years at the helm of Stillwater Mining Co. went into effect immediately, representatives of the precious metals mining company said.

The company’s vice president for corporate development, Terrell Ackerman, will take over as interim chief executive while the search continues for a permanent CEO.

McAllister was credited with successfully guiding the $1.4 billion company through difficult periods marked by low prices for the platinum and palladium that it extracts from two mines in the Beartooth Mountains.

He clashed at times with union leaders, but also sought to improve miner safety and expand production, and forged an alliance with local environmentalists that governed wastewater emissions from Stillwater’s mines.

But he lost his post as chairman of the board last month to Schweitzer, following a widely-criticized attempt to diversify Stillwater’s assets with the costly purchase of large palladium and copper reserves in Canada and Argentina.

The two-term Democratic governor alleged mismanagement, and teamed up with a New York hedge fund in an attempt to oust the company’s eight-member board of directors. They said McAllister’s policies put Stillwater’s more than 1,600 jobs at risk.

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McAllister and his allies mounted an aggressive counter-campaign in which they questioned Schweitzer’s private-sector experience and attempted to discredit his fellow nominees.

But in the lead-up to the shareholder’s vote, McAllister was forced to return $2.3 million worth of company shares following a shareholder’s lawsuit that charged the stock awards were excessive.

Four incumbents and four newcomers were elected to the board, with McAllister among those re-elected. But Friday’s news suggests McAllister’s days even then were numbered.

In a departure from his prior scathing criticism of McAllister, Schweitzer released a statement through the company praising the retiring CEO’s “dynamic leadership” and “lasting impact.”

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“We at Stillwater will miss him and wish him all the best in his retirement,” the former governor said in the statement.

A company spokesman said McAllister had no comment on his departure.

Past filings with federal securities regulators indicate he was due to receive compensation of almost $1.9 million upon retirement.

He earned almost $5 million last year in salary, stock and other compensation last year – a figure that had risen sharply in the last several years and was more than twice what his peers made at other companies, according to analysts.

The retirement announcement was made after the markets closed. Stillwater shares dropped 20 cents Friday, to $12.21, on the New York Stock Exchange.

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