Boardroom shake-up at Newcrest
Newcrest Mining's next generation of leaders will carry no baggage from this year's market disclosure scandal and have no direct link to the company's destructive acquisition of Lihir Gold, after the company revealed its next chairman and chief executive would be virtual outsiders.
In a move that largely neutralises this month's annual meeting, Newcrest announced that chairman Don Mercer would stand down before Christmas, and CEO Greg Robinson would be gone before the end of 2014.
The departures come after a horrid couple of years for Australia's biggest listed gold miner, and intense pressure from its biggest shareholders for change at the top.
Despite a period of record high gold prices, the company has repeatedly missed production guidance, suffered more than $6 billion in write-downs, and become bogged down in a market disclosure scandal that remains under investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
Its market capitalisation has been eroded by more than 70 per cent during Mr Robinson's 27-month tenure as chief executive.
Mr Mercer said his decision to stand down was made last year, and he had focused on board renewal since then.
One of his additions to the board was the man who will replace him as chairman, former Lazard and ANZ director Peter Hay.
CGI Glass Lewis analyst Aaron Bertinetti said it was notable that Mr Hay, 63, had become chairman barely two months after joining the board.
"It's not often you see the most recently appointed director become chairman," he said.
"The other issue is the new chair doesn't have any mining background, so we would be keen to see him gradually renew the board with more mining experience."
Governance commentator Stephen Mayne also highlighted Mr Hay's lack of gold mining experience, and described his appointment as a "classic Melbourne establishment baton change".
"It's very different to the globalised board that BHP Billiton have put together for instance," he said.
Mr Robinson will continue as chief executive until the second half of 2014, when he will be succeeded by former Rio Tinto executive Sandeep Biswas. Mr Biswas has recently run Rio's struggling Australasian aluminium assets, and will serve an interim period as chief operating officer before taking over the top job.
UBS analyst Jo Battershill said Mr Biswas may be tempted to realign Newcrest's corporate strategy to focus on fewer, more profitable gold mines. "The longer term view here is they need to reposition the company away from its current format and into a format that is more appealing to investors," he said.
"The 'good Newcrest' is assets like Gosowong, Cadia Valley and Lihir ... the 'bad Newcrest' is all those other assets that contribute about 700,000 ounces of gold at cash costs of over $US1000 per ounce.
"That is not the Newcrest that investors want to invest in, and they've made that clear by their actions and the moves we've seen in the share price."
Lihir was purchased for $10 billion in 2010, but has been plagued by mechanical failures and was this year written down by $3.69 billion.
Mr Battershill said Mr Biswas may also be tempted to lower Newcrest's gearing.
Mr Biswas was unavailable to speak to BusinessDay, and said in a statement he wanted Newcrest to "deliver against its objectives".
In the same statement, Mr Hay said the board would assess all options to make sure the strategy and balance sheet were appropriate.
Andrew Preston, from Newcrest shareholder Aberdeen Asset Management, told Bloomberg he was keen to see the new management "tighten up corporate governance".
Most observers said the departure of Mr Mercer and Mr Robinson would take the heat out of the annual meeting of shareholders on October 24, although proxy adviser ISS has called for three directors on the company's audit committee to stand down.
Newcrest shares closed 10¢ higher at $10.93.
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