MELBOURNE - BHP Billiton Ltd. Wednesday said Marius Kloppers is retiring as chief executive after more than five years, in the latest leadership change among the world's biggest mining companies as they grapple with slowing commodities demand and falling profits.
Mr. Kloppers will be succeeded in May by Andrew Mackenzie, a 56-year-old Scot who was lured away by Mr. Kloppers from rival Rio Tinto PLC and has run BHP's non-ferrous division since joining in 2008.
South Africa-born Mr. Kloppers has been dogged by criticism for failed acquisitions attempts, including a bid for rival Rio Tinto PLC, and hefty writedowns including against U.S. shale gas assets bought on his watch in 2011.
Mr. Mackenzie's appointment adds to a flurry of changes at the world's top mining companies after Rio Tinto last month replaced chief executive Tom Albanese with Sam Walsh, the head of the company's big iron ore division, after more than $14 billion in writedowns pushed the company to its first full-year loss. Anglo American PLC's chief executive Cynthia Carroll is also preparing to stand down and hand control to AngloGold Ashanti Ltd.'s Mark Cutifani, having faced criticism from shareholders for cost overruns and delays at a key iron ore development in Brazil and troubles at its South African platinum operation.
BHP in November said it had begun searching for a replacement for Mr. Kloppers and was using a recruitment agency to look outside the company for possible candidates.
"Marius was appointed chief executive just prior to the global financial crisis," Chairman Jacques Nasser said in a statement Wednesday. "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."
Mr. Mackenzie will take over from Mr. Kloppers on May 10 and join the company's board on that date. He has strong oil and gas experience as well a background in minerals at a time when BHP is emphasizing its broad asset base and growing petroleum business.
"He has an impressive resume," said Tim Schroeders, a fund manager at Pengana Capital in Melbourne, which owns shares in BHP. "But we'll have to wait and see what he brings to the table compared with what Marius [Kloppers] did."
Mr. Schroeders said the company's focus is likely to remain on containing costs that have risen sharply for mining companies in recent years as they have sought to expand production to meet growing demand from China and other developing economies, and on investing in more profitable businesses.
Mr. Mackenzie grew up in the industrial town of Kirkintilloch near Glasgow, Scotland, at a time when nearby coal mines were in decline. He began his career as a geologist and geochemist, before spending 22 years with BP PLC where he rose to vice president of petrochemicals in the U.S. He moved to Rio Tinto in 2004 as chief executive of industrial minerals.
"One of the first decisions I made when I became CEO was to bring Andrew into BHP Billiton, and I look forward to working closely with him," Mr. Kloppers said.
The leadership change was announced by BHP alongside a 58% fall in its first-half profit to $4.24 billion following a sharp fall in commodity prices. However, BHP tempered the weaker earnings with a 3.6% rise in its interim dividend payout.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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