BILLINGS, Montana — Top executives from Montana's largest mining company are relocating to Denver and plan to close its corporate offices in Billings, two years after a leadership struggle in which the company's former chief executive was sharply criticized for spending too much time outside the state.
Stillwater Mining Co. Chief Executive Officer Michael McMullen told The Associated Press on Thursday that he is among five senior company officials who will make the move to Colorado this summer. About 15 corporate staff will relocate to Columbus, Montana, site of the company's smelter and refinery and home of its registered headquarters.
The moves will save the 1,600-employee company more than $20,000 per month, a Stillwater spokeswoman said.
In 2013, McMullen's predecessor, Frank McAllister, was sharply criticized during a shareholder-led effort to oust him for spending too much time out of state.
Among the critics was former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who emerged from the proxy battle as Stillwater's chairman. The two-term Democrat at the time questioned how the company's platinum and palladium mines could be effectively managed from outside Montana.
Schweitzer did not return a message seeking comment.
McMullen, 44, who assumed the helm at Stillwater in December 2013, said the relocation of the corporate office has support from Schweitzer and other board members. He said Denver will be a suitable base for his work because it offers a more convenient meeting place for customers and is home to the company's outside auditors and legal staff.
McMullen also said he would remain a hands-on manager with frequent visits to Stillwater's mines near Nye and south of Big Timber.
"Everyone was comfortable with moving the corporate office down there now that they know me," McMullen said. "It's a bigger hub, a lot easier to deal with external people out of Denver ... It's not going to make a material change to the business."
Stillwater operates the only platinum and palladium mines in the U.S. in south-central Montana's Beartooth Mountains.
A leader of the union that represents most of Stillwater's workers said the closure of the Billings office was something workers had sought since 2009, after the company's mine south of Big Timber was temporarily closed during a downturn.
"We're questioning the timing of it," said Scott McGinnis, president of the local United Steelworkers union. "We find it curious now that they think they can save money while opening an office in Denver also. That can't be cheap."
McMullen's annual salary is $712,000 after increasing eight percent this year. He said it remains below the salary McAllister was receiving at the time of his departure.
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