BHP: No drama as Scotsman Andrew Mackenzie takes top job in mining

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BHP Billiton (NYSE: BBL - news) , the world's biggest mining company, hopes that a smooth change of leadership can herald new success

The last of the skittles at the FTSE 100 (FTSE: ^FTSE - news) mining giants fell this week as BHP Billiton, the sector leader, joined its rivals in replacing its chief executive.

Over at rival Anglo American (LSE: AAL.L - news) , Cynthia Carroll bowed to shareholder pressure in October and resigned without a successor then in place. At Rio Tinto, Tom Albanese left the day his departure was announced last month amid $14bn (£9bn) of asset writedowns.

Meanwhile Xstrata, the fourth of the FTSE 100’s big miners, is seeing Mick Davis cede control to Ivan Glasenberg of Glencore, the commodity giant with which it is merging.

In contrast, there was a distinct lack of fireworks as BHP named Andrew Mackenzie as its new chief executive, with the reassurance that the outgoing Marius Kloppers would stay with the company until October, after the official changeover takes place in May.

An absence of histrionics was, of course, exactly the impression BHP wanted to convey, with the news out of Australia late on Tuesday representing the end of a drawn-out succession process which intensified in the past year.

While professional headhunters were hired to look for external candidates to rival those inside the company, the field narrowed to four: Mr Mackenzie and his colleagues Mike Yeager, BHP’s Texan petroleum chief; its ferrous and coal head Marcus Randolph; and corporate development head Alberto Calderon.

Mr Mackenzie, however, was judged by the board to have the edge due to the breadth of his experience, with years at oil giant BP (LSE: BP.L - news) before stints at Rio Tinto and BHP leaving him with an in-depth knowledge of the energy sector, as well as the staples of iron ore, copper and the rest.

That was of crucial importance for a diversified group like BHP, which has aggressively entered the shale oil and gas arena in the US.

As Jac Nasser, BHP’s chairman, put it, the new CEO is “one of the few executives out there who has an experience profile that matches our business.”

He had also “attended every board meeting since he joined us and he ran one of our biggest groups, the non-ferrous groups, so over 50pc of the workforce was under his leadership.”

In terms of the act Mr Mackenzie has to follow, Mr Kloppers does not boast an unblemished record. Chief among the disappointments was BHP’s failed $39bn (£26bn) bid for fertiliser giant Potash Corp which was blocked by Canadian regulators demonstrating the difficulties in pulling off such megadeals.

Nonetheless, out of this wave of exiting mining CEOs, Kloppers is seen as “the one who, how do I put it nicely, destroyed the least amount of value,” in the words of one fund manager.

The 2.35pc fall in BHP’s shares on Wednesday following the news, down to £21.83½ in London, underlined the market regard for Mr Kloppers, rather than pointing to significant qualms about his replacement.

Mr Mackenzie’s oil experience inevitably means there will now be speculation BHP will move further into that area.

But the company argued the new boy did not represent a change in strategy, having already been shifting its focus like the rest of the sector to efficiency and extracting value from existing mines, rather than fresh growth projects and M&A, given weaker commodity prices.

“There are many things that will not change under my leadership,” said Mr Mackenzie.

Investors will be hoping that means the lack of drama will continue.

Scottish scientist turned industry captain now leads BHP

A scientist turned captain of industry, Andrew Mackenzie, 56, once named his science and language skills he speaks five as his “secret weapons”.

So far, they have helped him along a stellar trajectory. As a schoolboy growing up in the Scottish town of Kirkintilloch, he won science prizes donated by the local Miners’ Welfare group before graduating as top student in geology at St Andrew’s.

An academic career attracted the attention of the oil giants, before he joined BP’s research arm in 1983. There, he ended up running its chemical businesses in the US.

He moved to mining giant Rio Tinto (Xetra: 855018 - news) in 2004 to head its industrial minerals division, where he oversaw the building of a $5bn titanium mine in Madagascar .

In 2007, BHP’s Marius Kloppers hired him to run the group’s non-ferrous arm, positioning him as a prime contender to take the top job.

Mr Mackenzie and Liz, his wife of 35 years whom he met at university, have two daughters.