BHP Billiton chief Marius Kloppers to retire, profits plunge

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BHP Billiton (NYSE: BBL - news) , the world’s biggest mining company, named base metals head Andrew Mackenzie as its new chief executive and confirmed Marius Kloppers is stepping down from the top job.

The move underlines the change sweeping the world’s natural resource giants in the face of a worsening environment, after rivals Rio Tinto (Xetra: 855018 - news) and Anglo American unveiled new bosses in recent months.

Mr Mackenzie, a 56-year-old Scotsman poached by Mr Kloppers from Rio Tinto in 2007, takes over as the sector switches its focus from growth to a battle to protect margins by cutting costs.

He will take up the role of BHP chief executive on May 10.

Mr Kloppers didn’t provide much detail on the reason behind his decision to retire, apart from saying he felt it’s the “right time to pass the leadership baton”.

Jac Nasser, chairman of BHP, complimented Mr Kloppers, saying: “Despite an exceptionally difficult economic environment... Marius and his team have delivered for shareholders, significantly outperforming our peers in terms of total shareholder returns.”

However, Mr Kloppers will be remembered by many shareholders as a chief executive who failed to pull off several audacious takeover deals.

In 2007, he launched a $150bn (£97bn) takeover bid for Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest mining company. Rio Tinto, though, successfully rebuffed BHP’s advances.

Mr Kloppers also tried to buy one of Canada’s largest Potash producers, Potash Corporation, for $39bn. However, the takeover bid failed to secure the Canadian government’s approval and BHP was forced to drop its offer.

Mr Kloppers did manage to acquire shale producer Petrohawk Energy for $12.1bn in 2011, but that deal turned sour after BHP had to announce a multi-billion write-down on the value of its US shale gas assets a year later. As a result, Mr Kloppers had to forgo his annual bonus.

Mr Kloppers announced his retirement as BHP said revenues dropped 14pc to $32.2bn in the six months to the end of December, sending pre-tax profits plunging from $15.5bn to $6.5bn.