Mackenzie to test EQ and IQ on BHP bottom line
The new CEO differs markedly from Marius Kloppers, write Peter Ker and Brian Robins.
BHP Billiton's incoming chief, Andrew Mackenzie, may have been anointed to run the company only a matter of hours before, but he has been careful to make all the right moves, from calling his employer an "iconic company" through to talking up his new home, Melbourne.
He is good with people and has a softer side to him than outgoing CEO Marius Kloppers.
English-born, Scottish-reared Mackenzie described BHP as one of the world's greatest companies in his initial comments on Wednesday, carefully ticking the right boxes for the local media.
Mackenzie grew up in Glasgow, but his wife hails from Edinburgh, which made him well used to the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, he said, as he prepares to move to Melbourne.
For BHP shareholders, the key will be his ability to expand the company after the failures of his predecessor. Rival Rio Tinto blew billions with its disastrous $US27 billion purchase of Alcan Aluminium, a takeover that only last month claimed the scalp of its CEO, Tom Albanese, who was replaced by the grandfatherly Sam Walsh.
At BHP, it was not a disastrous takeover, but rather a failure to land any of the deals that it launched - bids for Rio and Potash Corp of Canada - or to consummate the planned iron ore joint venture with Rio, which some say cost Kloppers his job. But the contrast between Kloppers and Mackenzie couldn't be sharper.
Aside from Mackenzie's intellect, the Scotsman has a strong "emotional quotient" (EQ), which meant he was good at dealing with people, one person close to the transition said.
"Compared to Marius, whose IQ is sky high but his EQ is not, Andrew has a much higher EQ. He is very good with people. He has got a softer side to him than Marius has. Really, these days you want in business someone who has got a good IQ and a good EQ, so they are good with people, they communicate well . . . and people relate to them."
In public, Mackenzie comes across as a reserved and earnest member of BHP's team. He holds a PhD in chemistry, and his academic research produced findings still in use by academics and oil explorers.
Mackenzie spent 22 years at BP before joining Rio as the head of its industrial minerals division in 2004, before he was persuaded by Kloppers to join BHP. Married with two daughters, he speaks five languages.
He may have gained a good grounding in working in the senior ranks at BP, but it was at Rio that he made his mark, putting him on the radar at rival BHP.
At Rio, he merged three separate businesses - borax, talc and Dampier Salt - into a single unit. Reporting was streamlined, simplifying some services that were formerly duplicated or even triplicated. He is also credited with developing a $5 billion metals project in Africa while at Rio.
"I get an enormous buzz out of creating wealth and wellbeing from natural resources," Mackenzie said while at Rio. "At BP, that was expressed in just two products - oil and gas. Here at Rio Tinto, the real excitement for me . . . is that we have the whole periodic table to play with.
"I've moved from organic to inorganic chemistry and I've had the chance to open up whole new chapters in my geology textbooks. It's no longer just drilling muds and sandstone; nowadays I'm into sedimentary rocks, metamorphic rocks, igneous rocks, the whole gamut."
Now, after working at BHP for five years, Mackenzie has been anointed to run the show, and shareholders will be looking to see whether he can create more "wealth and wellbeing" from natural resources than the outgoing Kloppers did.
On Wednesday, Kloppers got the final word back at his chairman, Jac Nasser, following suggestions of tension there, which led to speculation of Nasser tapping Kloppers.
In an in-house video outlining the change in command, Kloppers said former BHP chief Paul Anderson had asked him on his promotion to the top position to start thinking of his successor immediately.
"That was good advice," Kloppers said. "One of the first decisions I made was to recruit Andrew," making his role in the selection of his successor crystal clear.