There are renewed calls from Anglo American’s top shareholders that CEO Cynthia Carroll be shown the door.
The embattled executive has just emerged from a bruising few weeks dealing with crippling strikes at Anglo’s South African platinum, gold and iron ore operations and will go into board meetings starting this Tuesday fighting for her corporate survival.
It is not the first time that shareholders of the London-listed firm have called for Carroll’s head.
She took up the position in March 2007 and since then the diversified miner, the world’s fourth largest, has seen its value decline by more than a third, leaving it vulnerable to a takeover. Profitability has also suffered – in July, the company announced a first half profit decline of 40% and delayed at least 50 growth projects.
Rivals BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have both shown strong gains over the same period.
Carroll, who is also a board member of oil giant BP, won’t miss the significance of the fact that the meetings are being held in Brazil.
A main criticism of her tenure has been the serious delays at the massive Minas Rio iron ore project in the South American country. Minas Rio was acquired in 2007, but first production at the $6 billion mine is now only expected in the second half of 2014.
While Minas Rio has been mired in permitting, legal and infrastructure delays, Anglo’s peers have been reaping windfall profits from skyrocketing iron ore prices.
Sky News reports “this weekend, a number of senior City sources said that plans for Ms Carroll to step down could be announced within a matter of weeks,” although “a person close to Anglo” insisted that the board meeting was “routine”:
Sir John Parker, the respected industrialist who has chaired Anglo since being brought in to defend it against a hostile takeover bid from Xstrata in 2009, has had extensive discussions with shareholders in recent months.
“He appears to have got the message,” one institutional investor told me this weekend. “There have been signals from the company that there will be change at the top – and soon.”
Another contentious issue has been Anglo’s battle with Chilean copper giant Codelco.
A year ago the state-owned company appeared to blindside Anglo by announcing that it will exercise an option dating back 33 years to acquire half of Anglo’s Los Bronces mines and smelters in the country.
After protracted legal action and corporate brinkmanship a compromise deal was reached in August, which saw Anglo reduce its stake to 50% from 75% before.
Some observers believe Codelco got the assets on the cheap, while others said Carroll negotiated the best possible deal with the government of Chile which took a hard line from the start.
Alex Vanselow, ex-chief financial officer of BHP, has often been rumoured as a possible candidate to take over the position. Vanselow surprised the market when he announced his resignation at the start of the year.
He has publicly stated his ambitions to head up a large capital-intensive multinational and his experience in the diamond business would be a good fit now that Anglo has fully absorbed De Beers.