Novelis Inc has announced the departure of president and ceo Philip Martens, with senior vp and cfo Steve Fisher taking over his duties as president on an interim basis.

The change is not reflective of performance issues, a company spokesman told Metal Bulletin sister publication AMM, describing the shift as a "change in leadership, not a change in business strategy".

"This was a decision of the board of directors. They decided it was the appropriate time to move in the direction of new leadership," he said. "The reality is, to make a change in leadership there is never a perfect time, but now was the right time. We’re embarking on a new fiscal year and the board felt it was the appropriate time to make the change."

"The board would like to thank Phil for his service to Novelis during a critical time of growth and expansion," chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said in a statement. "Given Steve’s deep knowledge of Novelis and strong support of the rest of the executive team, we have great confidence in his ability to lead the company during this interim period."

The search for a permanent chief executive is under way, the Atlanta-based company said.

Fisher served as vp of strategic planning and corporate development for the company in 2006 and was appointed cfo in 2007, the company said, and he will continue as senior vp and cfo. Prior to joining Novelis, Fisher spent 13 years consulting with management teams for various energy companies.

The exit of Martens came as a surprise to many, with analysts questioning the reasons behind his departure.

"It’s an abrupt announcement and it certainly has investors asking why," an analyst told AMM.

Fisher said the company remains committed to its current business strategy.

"The company’s commitment to our existing business strategy remains unchanged and I look forward to working with our strong senior executive team as we continue to focus on growing our portfolio of premium products and advancing our sustainability leadership," he said.

Novelis named Martens president in May 2009. He previously served as senior vp and president of light vehicle systems at Troy, Michigan-based ArvinMeritor Inc and president and ceo designate at Detroit-based Arvin Innovation.

Prior to that, he was president and coo of Dearborn, Michigan-based Plastech Engineered Products Inc, and from 1987 to 2005 he held various engineering and leadership positions at Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co, including group vp of product creation.

Novelis recently reshuffled several management positions to strengthen its focus on the beverage can and specialty products end markets.

The company’s earnings soared in its fiscal third quarter ended December 31 due in part to increased aluminium can and automotive sheet shipments, although Novelis noted the emergence of economic headwinds moving into this year.

This report was first published by American Metal Market.