KKR-backed Santanol appoints chief executive

Remi Claro has been appointed to head the Australian sandalwood producer.

Santanol, an Australian producer of sandalwood backed by US private equity giant KKR has appointed Remi Clero as chief executive.

Clero, a French national, is the former chief executive of fragrance company Paco Rabanne. He has also held positions with PepsiCo and Boston Consulting Group among others.

“Santanol has distinguished itself in the sandalwood market for its focus on sustainability and on providing a solution to the issue of deforestation that is rampant in this industry. Being asked to lead Santanol is a great honour, and the company is poised for strong growth given its unique offering in the market,” Clero said in a statement.

KKR acquired Santanol in 2013, a deal which attracted controversy because of Santanol‘s purchase around the same time – with KKR’s backing – of distressed sandalwood plantations owned by Australian farmer services business Elders. A rival bidder claimed the tree growers were being forced to accept a deal – said to be worth AUD$70 million ($51m, €45m)– which undervalued the plantations. Elders had previously announced its intention to sell its varied forestry holdings.

High demand for sandalwood has led to the creation of an illegal market and deforestation, with the tree now listed as vulnerable to extinction in the wild. Santanol manages a 2,100-hectare plantation which is used to produce sustainably sourced sandalwood for products ranging from fine fragrances to cosmetics to high-end furniture.

The appointment of Clero comes six months after Justin Reize, head of KKR’s Australia business and the man who oversaw the Santanol deal, retired after more than 15 years with the firm. 

Shortly after Reize’s retirement the firm invested $100 million in Australia’s Sundrop Farms, an agtech company which specialises in growing crops in an arid climate. The private equity house is currently investing in Australia and Asia from its Asia Fund II, which closed on $6 billion in July 2013.