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Andrew Liveris is leaving DowDuPont Inc. after a career spanning four decades, clearing the way for Jim Fitterling to take the reins of Dow when it’s spun off as an independent company next year.

Liveris, 63, will relinquish the chairman’s title on April 1 and leave the board as previously planned on July 1, DowDuPont said in a statement Monday. Fitterling was appointed to be chief executive officer of the Midland-based materials-science company, which will reclaim the Dow name when DowDuPont splits up into three publicly traded businesses.

The separation, expected to be completed by the end of 2019’s first quarter, will close a long chapter for Midland, a company town defined by Dow Chemical since Herbert Henry Dow founded the company there 120 years ago.

Fitterling has been chief operating officer of the company’s materials-science division since 2015 and led the merger with DuPont, which closed last September.

Like Liveris, Fitterling has spent his career at Dow since being hired in 1984. In the past decade, Fitterling has led the packaging and specialty plastics business, overseen the carve out of Dow’s styrene and chlorine businesses and steered a $6 billion construction project on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Fitterling earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Missouri.

The 56-year-old is the first openly gay executive to be named CEO of a major chemical company. Dow under Liveris has been one of the most vocal proponents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in corporate America, particularly in opposing state laws seen as hostile to LGBT employees. In the absence of federal action on gay rights, Dow has teamed up with companies such as Salesforce.com, Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Facebook Inc. to lobby against the laws and also support legal positions that protect LGBT rights.

Fitterling has been a leader of that effort at Dow. After nearly three decades at the company, he came out broadly in 2014.

In an interview last week, the executive acknowledged that he’d probably be the first openly gay CEO in the chemical industry if he got the job. Building an inclusive and equal environment is good for business, he said on the sidelines of the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

“We think it is great for innovation, it creates the right teamwork and the right dynamic that we want to have for hiring,” Fitterling said. “And we also think it is the right thing to do. Business today, I think, is setting a good role model example for how you do that. So being open about that and being public about that I think is important.”

Howard Ungerleider will be the Midland spinoff’s president and chief financial officer. Ungerleider is currently DowDuPont’s chief financial officer.

Liveris had considered leaving last year amid activist pressure as DowDuPont looked to reshape management to prepare for a breakup.

“Now is the right time for me to effect my previously announced plan to transition and then to retire,” Liveris said in the statement. Jeff Fettig, who is co-lead independent director of DowDuPont, will take over as executive chairman.

Delays getting regulatory approvals for the deal prompted board discussions on Liveris delaying his retirement last year. The board then bumped his exit to July 1 of this year.

Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management and Dan Loeb’s Third Point both targeted Dow and DuPont, forcing the company to change its plan for splitting up into more focused groups. Liveris faced pressure from Third Point, which didn’t want him involved in the merged company.

Building out the senior management team at the new Dow, DowDuPont Chief Financial Officer Howard Ungerleider will serve as president and CFO once its separation is complete.

Fitterling “is a good choice for New Dow,” Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said in a note. “It settles the uncertainty around the Dow succession.”

Charles E. Ramirez of The Detroit News contributed.

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