The world's largest miner, under pressure from U.S.-based activist investor Elliott Management over its strategy, has been searching for a replacement since Nasser announced his impending retirement in October.
BHP’s board is expected to select a new chairman at its June meeting to replace long-serving former Ford Motor Co boss Jac Nasser, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The world’s largest miner, under pressure from U.S.-based activist investor Elliott Management over its strategy, has been searching for a replacement since Nasser announced his impending retirement in October.
Executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles has been assisting with a search that includes internal and external candidates, the sources said. They declined to be named because the process is not public. A source close to Elliott told Reuters last month the activist fund, which owns 4.1 percent of BHP’s UK shares, would be willing to back an internal candidate for the role, but declined to disclose the fund’s preference.
Both Nasser, 69, and his predecessor, Don Argus, served on the board for at least three years before taking on the chairman’s role. Craig Evans, the co-portfolio manager of the Tribeca Natural Resources Fund, said his fund would prefer an external candidate with technical and operational experience in the mining and oil and gas industries.
“The existing board hasn’t covered itself in glory,” he said. “We have concerns that the majority of the board has been in charge for the financial underperformance and have not shown a track record of respecting shareholder capital compounded by the safety issues at (Brazil iron ore mine) Samarco.”
A burst dam at Samarco, a joint venture between BHP and Brazil’s Vale, killed 19 people and caused Brazil’s worst ever environmental disaster in 2015, when mud and waste destroyed a village and polluted the Rio Doce river.
Andy Forster, a portfolio manager at Argo Investments, said he expected BHP would choose a current board member given the strong slate of candidates.
“It would be surprising if someone external was to beat them and have the understanding of the business,” he said. “If you look at Jac, they don’t necessarily have to have someone with direct mining experience.”
BHP and Heidrick & Struggles declined to comment. The following are names mentioned by industry sources, investors and analysts as potential candidates.
* Ken MacKenzie, 53
Canadian-born MacKenzie, a former CEO of Melbourne-based global packaging group Amcor Ltd who has been on the BHP board for less than a year, is highly respected among investors. At Amcor he had a track record of smart acquisitions and brought cultural transformation to a company hit by a price-fixing scandal. “He’s been one of Australia’s most effective CEOs. He does tick a lot of boxes,” said George Clapham, managing partner of Arnhem Investment Management, which owns BHP and Amcor shares.
* Lindsay Maxsted, 63
Maxsted, an Australian, has been on the BHP board for six years. The former corporate recovery specialist is the chairman of both the country’s second largest bank, Westpac Banking Corp and toll road operator Transurban Group. Local media reports have said he is willing to step down from those roles if he gets the prestigious BHP job.
Carolyn Hewson, 61
Hewson, an Australian, has been on the board for seven years and is a champion of gender diversity. The male-dominated company has set an aspirational target for half of its workforce to be female by 2025. The former investment banker is also a director at property group Stockland Corp.
Malcolm Broomhead, 64
Broomhead, an Australian who has served on the board for seven years, has extensive experience in running industrial and mining companies with a global footprint. He also has experience in project development in many of the countries in which BHP operates.
He is the chairman of explosives maker Orica Ltd, where he once served as CEO. He had previously headed miner North Ltd before it was bought by Rio Tinto .
Andrew Liveris, 63
Liveris, the Australian-born Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical Co has spent more than 40 years with the U.S.-based company. He is due to step down as chairman of the merged DowDuPont in July 2018. He has been a leading adviser on manufacturing to US President Donald Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama.