The new BHP Billiton chief executive officer Andrew Mackenzie will determine whether Marius Kloppers joins the ranks of the great leaders of Australia’s largest company.
The BHP Billiton of today was shaped by two chief executives – Ian McLennan in the 1960s who brought the company into Western Australian iron ore via Mount Newman and into the oil business (via Bass Strait), and James McNeill who delivered Queensland coal and Escondida copper.
Marius Kloppers was lucky because he avoided what would have been a disastrous takeover of Rio Tinto and a Potash takeover exercise, which would have been just another addition.
When he failed at these two attempts, Kloppers spent some $20 billion on US shale oil and gas. They could be sold for much more than that, despite a $2.8 billion writedown last year.
The American shale sector is going to be the biggest global mineral development for the next two decades and Kloppers has BHP Billiton and its shareholders in the box seat.
But it's one thing to be in the box seat and another to make it work for shareholders – that’s now Mackenzie’s job.
Of course a key to the US development will be Michael Yeager. Some early commentary had Yeager taking over from Kloppers. Yeager is the visionary who Kloppers backed. He needs to be on the ground in the US.
If US shale is as big as I think it is then Kloppers joins McLennan and McNeill. But the institutions want cash now, not later and Kloppers was an expansionist.
It may be a while before we see another expansionist at the helm of BHP Billiton.