The changing of the guard

THIS year brought about change at the top of most of the world’s largest mining companies.
The changing of the guard The changing of the guard The changing of the guard The changing of the guard The changing of the guard

BHP Billiton's Marius Kloppers

Staff Reporter

Last year it was the gold miners, with Barrick Gold, Newmont Mining and Kinross Gold all replacing their CEOs. This year it flowed through to the larger miners.

As usual, columnist Dryblower was right on the money in October 2012 when he sang a farewell song for BHP Billiton boss Marius Kloppers and Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese.

A Financial Times report in November last year set off speculation that Kloppers’ days at the helm of BHP were numbered.

BHP responded to the rumours by saying succession planning was one of the tasks of the board.

But in February, it was announced that Kloppers would not only depart the company, but had handpicked his successor, Scotsman Andrew Mackenzie.

“I’m proud to be handing the reins over to him,” Kloppers told media on the day of the announcement.

Since then, Mackenzie has already made his mark on the company through his “four pillars” strategy, which aims to simplify the portfolio to focus on iron ore, copper, coal and petroleum, with a possible fifth pillar in potash.

He has also put a heavy emphasis on productivity and said earlier this month that it had the potential to create more value than anything else.

The strategy is showing signs of success, with BHP recently lifting iron ore guidance to 212 million tonnes.

Albanese’s departure from Rio was more unpleasant, with the American abruptly resigning in January when the company announced a staggering $US14 billion in write-downs.

Rio chairman Jan du Plessis said a write-down of that scale was unacceptable and Albanese acknowledged that the buck stopped with him.

He was immediately replaced by Perth-based Rio iron ore chief Sam Walsh, who promised a more disciplined approach.

Walsh said last week that all year he had been working towards delivering more value for shareholders.

“This is a world-class company,” he said.

“But, to be frank, we had lost focus on what really matters – delivering superior value to shareholders.”

Walsh said he was also driving a “cultural transformation”, which would ensure that “everyone in this business acts as an owner, taking accountability for their decisions”

There has been some speculation that Walsh won’t be in the top job for long, with his 65th birthday looming next December.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Carroll resigned as Anglo American CEO in October last year, but agreed to stay on until a worthy replacement was found.

That replacement was announced in January as Australian Mark Cutifani, who left AngloGold Ashanti for the role, replaced there by chief financial officer Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan.

Cutifani spent eight months reviewing Anglo’s portfolio and his strategy, announced last week, included asset sales over the next few years.

The Anglo revival plan is focused on a target of attributable return on capital employed (ROCE) of more than 15% by 2016, compared to a 9% ROCE the group generated last year.

“Fifteen per cent return on capital is a break-even number,” Cutifani told an investor day in London last week.

“That’s a starting point for delivering value.”

Finally, Mick Davis was out of a job when the long-awaited merger of Glencore and Xstrata was completed in May.

Glencore boss and major shareholder Ivan Glasenberg retained the top spot and has since made his mark by backing away from greenfields developments and selling or abandoning many of Xstrata’s assets.

The $500 million of synergies touted in the merger increased to at least $2 billion. Glasenberg closed 33 offices in three months and reduced the company’s headcount by 450, comprising 45% of Xstrata’s staff.