BHP approached Anglo American chief Mark Cutifani for CEO role, say insiders

BHP has talked to Anglo American chief executive officer Mark Cutifani about running for the top job at the company, according to people familiar with the matter.

BHP made the approaches earlier this year and again more recently, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the process is confidential. Cutifani rebuffed the company’s advances so far, they said. BHP favours an internal hire, but also wants to speak with external candidates, the people said.

Spokespersons for Anglo and BHP declined to comment.

Cutifani has said in previous interviews he planned to stay until Anglo finished its $5bn Peruvian copper project Quellaveco, which may start production in 2022, by which time he will be in his mid-60s.

There has been speculation for years about who might take the reins of BHP, the world’s biggest mining company, once Andrew Mackenzie steps down. Analysts have expected that Mackenzie, 62, could make an exit in 2020, by which time he would have held the job for seven years.

BHP chairperson Ken MacKenzie, no relation to the CEO, has favoured the idea of promoting an executive to the top job, which he views as less risky, according to the people. Current front-runners are Peter Beaven, the chief financial officer, Mike Henry, head of Australian operations and Daniel Malchuk, who runs the Americas business.

Melbourne-based BHP is the biggest company in Australia and has long been seen as a national champion, but it hasn’t had an Australian-born boss since merging with Billiton in 2001.

Cutifani, who hails from Australia and has a background in mining engineering, has overseen one of the industry’s most successful turnaround stories in the past five years.

He took the helm of Anglo in 2013 after the company lost billions in stock-market value from a disastrous foray into Brazilian iron ore. In 2015, Anglo faced down possible bankruptcy because of plunging metal prices and a heavy debt load.

Cutifani steered the recovery by reducing Anglo’s debt burden, as well as cutting back on costs and employees. At one point, the company planned to sell half its assets, but later cancelled the sales as prices for iron ore and copper started to roar back.

Since the start of 2016, Anglo shares have risen sixfold, far outpacing other blue-chip mining shares. As profits recovered, Anglo has invested heavily in new projects, such as Quellaveco, while other mining companies have put a greater focus on returning cash to shareholders through dividends and share buybacks.

BHP CEO Mackenzie, also appointed to his role in 2013, has worked to slash the size of BHP. He led the company through a $9bn (R135bn) spin-off of South32 in 2015 and a $10.5bn (R157bn) exit from US shale operations last year.

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