Change at the top a welcome move for BHP Billiton

Published 27 February 2013 23:29, Updated 28 February 2013 10:39

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Change at the top a welcome move for BHP Billiton

Andrew Mackenzie is much more than a bright and breezy personality. Photo: Ian Waldie

Things are going to be different at BHP Billiton following the appointment of new chief executive Andrew Mackenzie. One of the first things you notice about Mackenzie is his big, winning smile and good humour. The incoming chief executive is a striking counterpoint to his dour predecessor Marius Kloppers and employees and investors alike can expect a new era at the biggest Australian.

Media reports variously describe Mackenzie as affable, beaming and engaging, whereas Kloppers is portrayed as introverted, hyper-fastidious and obsessive. As if to make the point, Mackenzie the jolly Scotsman joked that one of his first edicts as CEO would be to make it mandatory for staff to eat haggis at their desks.

Mackenzie was alluding to Kloppers’ infamous clean-desk and office etiquette policy.

There’s more to corporate leadership than a happy disposition but effective leadership has many strands to it and Mackenzie represents the full package. He is much more than a bright and breezy personality. A PhD-qualified geologist and geochemist who speaks five languages, Mackenzie has an impressive corporate pedigree that includes group vice-president of petrochemicals for BP and chief executive of Rio Tinto’s industrial minerals division.

PhD-qualified geologist and geochemist who speaks five languages, Mackenzie has an impressive corporate pedigree.

This is the right time for a change of leader at BHP and Mackenzie is ideal for the role. The mining sector faces an uncertain global economic climate and lower commodity prices. For BHP, the world’s biggest miner, the challenges are acute, as reflected in the recent announcement of a 43 per cent fall in first-half underlying profit to $US5.68 billion.

Mackenzie vows that there will be no radical departures from strategic directions set by Kloppers. “There are lots of things that are great about this company that I have no intention of changing,” he says.

What will change is the culture and atmosphere at BHP as the company sets forth on the difficult period ahead. This will be a time for a leader to inspire and motivate employees and Kloppers, for all his impressive qualities, is not that leader. Mackenzie most definitely is.

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