BHP's new chief to hold course, jettison loss-making assets

Thu Feb 21, 2013 1:29am EST
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By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE Feb 21 (Reuters) - Andrew Mackenzie, a low-key operations man, beat higher profile rivals to the top spot at BHP Billiton, but his record shows he won't shy away from the tough calls needed to exit the top global miner's loss-making businesses.

BHP is the last of the big miners to replace its chief executive, at a time when empire builders are being ousted in favour of more conservative appointments, picking a man recognised for his political nous and a more common touch than his predecessor.

Mackenzie, who ran some of BHP's toughest assets, is also an executive virtually handpicked by the miner's previous boss, Marius Kloppers, and closely linked to the company's mega projects and deals including an ill-fated tilt for Potash Corp .

Where an external appointment would have signalled a shift, Mackenzie has been read as a steady hand at the tiller.

"I wouldn't say he was an empire builder, I wouldn't say he was conservative. I'd just say he's a very intelligent chap who knows how to do business," said a former colleague at oil major BP, who asked not to be named.

The Glasgow-raised geologist and academic, spent 22 years at BP and more than three years at BHP rival Rio Tinto , before jumping ship to head up BHP's base metals, uranium and potash units, managing 50,000 people across four continents.

"There are many things that will not change, most notably the strategy which has served us well," Mackenzie told reporters. "My job is to sharpen the focus."

BHP Chairman Jac Nasser was also at pains to stress there would be more of the same from the miner's new boss, sweating its best assets as hard as possible and slashing costs, including capital spending, exploration and operational costs.   Continued...