Earlier this month, reports that BHP were searching for a replacement for chief executive officer Marius Kloppers raised more than a few eyebrows.
Nasser acknowledged the heightened interest in the topic, but said succession was an ongoing process.
“I believe the board’s most important task is the development of our people and ensuring we have the right people in the right roles at all levels of the company,” he said.
“Succession planning and executive development is a process and not an event, and at BHP Billiton this process is ongoing and thorough.”
Nasser said the process started from the first day a CEO and his team were appointed.
“It involves assessing the skills and experiences that will be required and, in turn, focusing our development actions to make sure we have those skills and experiences when they are needed,” he said.
“This is not only good people practice, it is good risk mitigation.”
BHP’s executive development process included the identification of high-potential people inside and outside the company, using its own human resources team and external consultants, Nasser said.
“The external advisors help us benchmark our internal talent and enable us to identify the best talent outside our company,” he said.
“You need to understand what the talent is.”
Nasser used the takeover of Graham Kerr from Alex Vanselow in the chief financial officer role this year as a good example of the success of its processes, describing it as a “seamless transition”
“The performance of your company over recent years demonstrates how well our process works,” he said.
“We have a world class leadership team headed by Marius that has successfully guided the company through very difficult conditions; conditions that have negatively impacted many of our peers and many other companies around the world.”
Nasser said that was sometimes taken for granted and urged shareholders to reflect on the performance of the management team.
But he stressed that BHP’s commitment to succession planning would continue.
“In terms of CEO succession, where we are now, is where any company would be two, five or more years into the tenure of a CEO,” Nasser said.
“We would not be doing our job as a board if we didn’t look at this continually.”
Nasser said he wasn’t surprised by the amount of attention the issue had received.
“I understand the interest in this. I understand the importance of this,” he said.
“I know that won’t be the last time I address this.”
Kloppers steered clear of the issue and it was not touched on during the lengthy question session.