Glencore’s executive departures hasten as oil chief leaves

Alex Beard. Image from archives.

The generational change at the top of Glencore Plc gained speed on Monday, after the company announced the retirement of its long standing head of oil Alex Beard.

Beard, 51, was at one time seen as a possible successor to Glencore chief Ivan Glasenberg. He was all but ruled out for the job after Glasenberg said in December that the next leader will come from a younger generation. Beard will retire at the end of June.

Known for his acumen trading Russian oil, the British executive became the head of oil at Glencore in 2007 and helped lead the company through its initial public offering nearly a decade ago, becoming a billionaire on paper with a stake worth $2.8 billion in 2011.

Beard is one of the executives closest to Glasenberg, but has a mixed reputation among investors. Many blame him for a nearly $1 billion writedown from an ill-timed investment in oil production in Chad, just before oil prices crashed. He oversaw the oil business in Venezuela and Nigeria, which is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, and dealings with Brazil, which are the subject of separate investigations in the U.S. and Brazil.

Glencore shares have fallen more than 30% in the past year, and the stock is trading at a two-year low.

Going forward, the oil role will be split in two. Alex Sanna, 37, will oversee oil trading, while Peter Freyberg, 59, widens his current role as head of industrial assets to include oil production, according to a statement on Monday.

In promoting Sanna, a well-regarded diesel trader but an unknown executive outside the world of commodities, Glencore passed over other senior traders in its oil division, including Maxim Kolupaev, the head of crude trading and de-facto number two of the business.

Several of Glencore’s key executives, who also rank among its big shareholders, have left in the past six months. Chris Mahoney is stepping down as top boss of its agriculture unit after 17 years in the role. Telis Mistakidis, the head of copper marketing, and Stuart Cutler, head of ferroalloys marketing, retired last year.

The exit comes amid a broader generational shift at the company. Glasenberg said in December he would retire in three to five years and is actively searching for a successor. At the time, he said whoever takes the reins should be about 45 years old at the time of the succession, implying that none of the top traders who took the company public are likely to be chosen.

The leadership exits also raise the question of how soon the executives will sell their remaining Glencore shares.

With his retirement, all but five of the 13 top executives at the time of the IPO — many of them billionaires or hundred millionaires — have left the company. The only four remaining are Glasenberg, Chief Financial Officer Steve Kalmin, Daniel Mate, head of zinc; Tor Peterson, head of coal, and Giles Jones, who was chief risk officer in 2011 and now oversees U.S. trading.

(By Javier Blas and Lynn Thomasson)