Times are a-changin: BHP and Rio get new CEOs

First it was Tom Albanese, and then Marius Kloppers stepped down.

By Ian Armitage

Although we're only a few months into 2013, we've already seen two heavyweights of the mining industry bow out.

First, it was the unexpected sacking of Rio Tinto's Tom Albanese after the company announced a $14 billion write-down.

Albanese stepped down by mutual agreement with the board, Rio Tinto said, and has been replaced by Sam Walsh, chief executive of the miner's iron ore business.

Rio Tinto chairman Jan du Plessis said the scale of the write-down was "unacceptable".

"The Rio Tinto board fully acknowledges that a write-down of this scale in relation to the relatively recent Mozambique acquisition is unacceptable," Mr du Plessis said.

"We are also deeply disappointed to have to take a further substantial write-down in our aluminium businesses, albeit in an industry that continues to experience significant adverse changes globally."

A few weeks later Albanese's departure, it was the turn of BHP Billiton Chief Executive Marius Kloppers.

Kloppers however is not is not being booted out.

He is retiring from the giant mining firm, which logged a 58 percent decline in first half profit to $4.24 billion because of lower commodity prices and weak U.S. currency, in October 2013. The news left financial markets stunned.

Last year, South African-born Kloppers warned that the mining boom would not last forever.

And in announcing his retirement he said BHP could no longer "rely on the tailwind of prices" and he did not think the recent spikes in iron ore prices - which it is already committed to expanding - would be sustained.

To replace Mr Kloppers is Andrew Mckenzie, the 56-year-old chief executive of the non-ferrous division and head of the Olympic Dam project who has been with BHP since November 2008.

Scotsman McKenzie has more than 30 years of experience in oil and gas, petrochemicals and minerals and holds a doctorate in Chemistry and a degree in Geology.

BHP Chairman Jac Nasser said that Mr Kloppers is leaving the number one miner a safer and stronger company.

"Marius was appointed Chief Executive just prior to the global financial crisis. Despite an exceptionally difficult economic environment during his tenure, Marius and his team have delivered for shareholders, significantly outperforming our peers in terms of total shareholder returns. He drove new investments into next generation opportunities including US onshore gas and liquids and created one of the most valuable companies in the world.

"He leaves BHP Billiton a safer and stronger company."

Nasser said the appointment of Mr McKenzie, considered the right person to lead BHP in a changing global environment, is proof that the company's succession planning process has served the miner well for more than a decade.

"In succeeding Marius, Andrew brings a unique combination of deep industry knowledge and global management experience to the CEO role. Andrew held senior positions in BP and Rio Tinto before joining BHP Billiton in 2008. He has led our Non-Ferrous division for the last five years working across four continents with responsibility for over half of our 100,000 people.

"Our succession planning process has served the company well for over a decade. Today's announcement is a result of that planned and considered process.

"The Board has decided that Andrew is the right person to lead BHP Billiton in a changing global environment."

Calls for a change at the top of BHP came after Kloppers failed to execute some big acquisitions, including that of Rio. It grated investors.

So, is Glasgow-born McKenzie the right man for the job? Time will tell.

The new boss stressed he would "sharpen the focus on cost control and capital discipline", concepts he was familiar with from his time running BP's low-margin chemicals business.

He insisted he would not change much about the world's biggest miner's current strategy.

"I look forward to working closely with Marius during the transition and building on his legacy including continuing the focus on our strategy of owning and safely operating large, low cost, long life assets diversified by commodity, geography and market," Mackenzie said.

The changes at Rio and BHP means all five of the world's biggest miners have different chief executives, in place or lined up, to those that led them through the global financial crisis.

Image: Getty




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