Whitehaven changes CEO after Haggarty exit

Whitehaven Coal chairman Mark Vaile insists the miner's growth plans are on track despite a bad year culminating in the resignation of respected chief executive Tony Haggarty.

On Thursday, the coal miner continued a theme of change at the top of mining companies saying Mr Haggarty had stood down to be replaced next month by Paul Flynn, the former head of Whitehaven major shareholder Nathan Tinkler's private company.

Mr Flynn has a background in financial services and not mining, a fact noted by analysts.

Whitehaven shares fell 19 cents, or six per cent, to close at $2.94.

The string of setbacks for Whitehaven included an unwelcome takeover attempt and board spill by 19.4 per cent shareholder Mr Tinkler, and a heavy downgrade in first half earnings guidance to less than $10 million.

A hoax press release by anti-coal protester Jonathan Moylan falsely claimed the company had lost $1.2 billion in financing for its Maules Creek mine, temporarily wiping off $314 million in share value and sparking an Australian Securities and Investments Commission investigation.

Mr Vaile said while the coal market was currently challenging he believed the "super-competitive" Maules Creek mine in NSW would start soon, more than doubling production to 25 million tonnes a year.

"We have a number of producing assets that have been very competitive in the marketplace and we are going to add to those a super-competitive asset in Maules Creek with a very low strip ratio and projected costings," he told AAP.

He rejected any suggestion Mr Flynn was Mr Tinkler's man, pointing to comments at the company's recent AGM that he was independent and not in contact with him.

The decision involved international headhunters Spencer Stuart and comes after former Fortescue Metals operations head Jamie Frankcombe was hired to run Whitehaven's operations amid other management appointments.

"Paul will be leading a team that is highly experienced with a diverse range of skill sets," Mr Vaile said.

Mr Haggarty forged his reputation in coal by founding Excel Coal, before it was sold to Peabody Energy for nearly $2 billion, but said he would not stay at Whitehaven indefinitely following last year's merger with Aston.

Patersons Securities analyst Andrew Harrington said Mr Flynn, who will receive fixed annual remuneration of $1.3 million plus incentives, had big shoes to fill.

"Paul Flynn does not come from a mining or development background in the coal industry, and it will be very difficult to fill the shoes of Tony Haggarty, but the board has had a long time to select the best candidate to take the company from five million tonnes per annum to 25Mtpa in the coming years," he wrote in a note to clients.

"One comment that we would add is that one could assume that having come from the Tinkler stable, Paul Flynn may lay to rest some of the tension between WHC and its largest shareholder."

Mr Vaile pointed to a consensus view that the coal market would steadily improve and state and likely federal approvals for Maules Creek as evidence fortunes were turning around.

Meanwhile, Whitehaven is co-operating with ASIC's investigation.

"Unfortunately it was a distraction away from our core business of producing both thermal and metallurgical coal ... very important is the rigorous process of approval we've been through with Maules creek with regard to the way our application has addressed environmental issues," he said.

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