Anglo American Strategy Chief Named as New CEO
(Bloomberg) -- Anglo American Plc named long-time front-runner and head of strategy Duncan Wanblad as its next chief executive officer, succeeding Mark Cutifani who will step down after nine years.
The appointment marks a likely continuation of strategy for the more than 100-year-old miner -- Wanblad, 54, has been a key player in many of the company’s recent moves, including its exit from thermal coal and the acquisition of a fertilizer project in the U.K. It’s also the last of a series of expected leadership changes at the world’s biggest miners.
The announcement is “a solid appointment and expected by the market,” said Ben Davis, an analyst at Liberum Capital. “We expect Anglo to continue very much in the same vein as before.”
Cutifani, 63, will retire at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in April, Anglo said in a statement. He has held the role since 2013 and navigated the miner through one of its most traumatic periods, when it was on the cusp of collapse during the 2015 commodity crisis. Since then, he’s led a dramatic recovery, fueled by record prices for many of the commodities it mines and positioned the company for growth.
Wanblad, a South African, was made head of business development in 2016, and relinquished a separate role running base metal operations in 2019. That teed him up to spend more time with Cutifani and other senior managers. Since then he’s long been seen by company insiders as the front-runner to succeed Cutifani.
“I absolutely don’t have any major apprehensions. I’ve been part of Mark’s team for a number of years now and part of shaping up the direction of the company,” Wanblad said on a call with reporters Wednesday.
Anglo is one of the world’s biggest producers of diamonds and platinum and a major iron ore, copper and coking coal miner. Wanblad will step into the top role during a major period of growth for the business, as it gets ready to start full production at a new copper mine in Peru and moves toward building a new U.K. fertilizer mine.
But he’ll also need to contend with growing scrutiny being directed at the mining industry from investors, government and wider society, for its impact on climate and the environment. Anglo has already responded by exiting the thermal coal business and said last week it aims to halve the pollution created when customers process its raw materials in the next two decades.
“The whole world of climate change and the energy transition is just going to become more and more urgent and that in itself will bring a number of challenges,” Wanblad said.
The new chief has been at Anglo for more than 30 years. He started at the Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company, before working in the platinum and copper units and ultimately heading up base metals. Less outwardly gregarious than the Australian Cutifani, Wanblad is seen internally as a highly analytical leader who seeks a diverse range of opinions.
He becomes the company’s first CEO from Anglo’s own birthplace, South Africa, since Tony Trahar left in 2007. The company was founded in 1917 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ernest Oppenheimer on the back of the nation’s giant gold mines, before moving into diamonds, platinum and coal, and still has major operations in the country today.
Cutifani’s departure was well flagged -- the Australian has long indicated he planned to step down as the Quellaveco copper mine in Peru came into production. His departure comes at a time of change for the wider industry, with recent changes at the top of BHP Group, Rio Tinto Group and Glencore Plc.
Those companies have also experienced broader management shuffles, something Anglo is confident it can avoid. Wanblad’s appointment is a popular choice and his two key lieutenants, Technical Director Tony O’Neill and Finance Director Stephen Pearce, have committed to stay at the company, said Chairman Stuart Chambers.
Cutifani leaves Anglo in a strong position. The company’s shares came close to a record high earlier this year and it’s currently worth $47 billion.
That’s a far cry from his early days in the job -- in 2015, Anglo was among the worst affected of the major mining firms when waning demand from China led commodity prices to collapse and the company’s market value fell to less than $3 billion. Cutifani scrapped the dividend that year and embarked on a drastic debt-reduction plan, which involved plans to sell or close almost half of its assets.
Most of those ideas were ultimately shelved, as commodity prices roared back, allowing Anglo to keep hold of now very-profitable iron ore and coal mines that were once earmarked for a fire sale. Instead, Cutifani set Anglo apart from its rivals, pursuing growth while bigger miners BHP and Rio Tinto focused on returning cash to shareholders.
The company recently reported its highest-ever interim profit and will return $4.1 billion in dividends and buybacks. Wanblad says he’s aiming higher yet.
“It’s hard for me to believe we’ve topped out on our earnings potential already,” he said. “I think there’s still a lot more to come.”
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