(Bloomberg) -- Alcoa Inc. named William F. Oplinger as chief executive officer, replacing Roy C. Harvey, who has led the largest US aluminum producer since its split from Arconic Corp.

Chief Operations Officer Oplinger is a natural successor — he was chief financial officer when Harvey took over as CEO and the two have worked closely together for years. Harvey will also serve as strategic adviser to the new CEO until the end of the year.

Still, the timing of the announcement was sudden. The board decided on Sunday that Harvey would immediately cease to serve as president and CEO, the company said in a filing. It also said that he will receive severance payments. 

Alcoa shares dropped at the open on Monday, and were 3.1% lower at 9:33 a.m. in New York. 

As CEO, Harvey oversaw the transition of the more than century-old American company after Alcoa split its jet- and car-parts business from the legacy metal-making operation, and spent years shoring up the balance sheet, paying down debt and pension plan liabilities and making the commodity business more efficient.

“This is an abrupt change,” Timna Tanners, an analyst at Wolfe Research said in a phone interview. The news comes at a time when Alcoa has been struggling with operational and permitting setbacks in Australia that are affecting its profits, she said.

Oplinger has a strong knowledge of the company’s balance sheet and business operations and has also been well liked by investors through the years of transition. Still, he doesn’t enter the role with a lot of traditional operating experience.

For Alcoa, the change at the top also comes during a difficult time in aluminum markets, as weak demand pressures prices. A versatile and ubiquitous metal, aluminum is used in everything from cars to buildings and drinks cans.

The aluminum industry is also still grappling with the question of how to deal with material from Russia — while there are no blanket sanctions that affect trading in Russian aluminum, some buyers and traders have sought to avoid those supplies and the US has announced a duty on imports.

Alcoa, under Harvey, has been one of the most vocal critics of the impact Russian aluminum is having on the market, calling on the London Metal Exchange to delist the material. Alcoa and Norsk Hydro ASA have warned that a buildup of Russian aluminum inventories in LME warehouses this year risk distorting the global benchmark.

(Updates with analyst, share price.)

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