LONDON – In Ken MacKenzie’s first annual shareholder meeting as chairman of BHP Billiton Ltd., he gave a strong endorsement of the current chief executive officer, ending speculation over his future at the company.
BHP has been under pressure for months by activist investor Elliott Management Corp. to overhaul the business. Analysts have speculated that the chairman could offer CEO Andrew Mackenzie a new, long-term mandate, or refresh the executive line-up.
“Any suggestion that there is a set timeframe around Andrew’s tenure is simply false and without merit,” Chairman MacKenzie said in London on Thursday. CEO Mackenzie reiterated his commitment to the job, saying he’s the right person to lead the world’s top mining firm and has a very strong track record.
Strategy missteps by BHP’s leadership in businesses including shale have destroyed about $40 billion in value, according to New York-based Elliott, which is pushing for major changes at BHP. The activist investor won concessions on the sale of BHP’s shale business and delayed development of a Canadian potash project, but is also pushing for board changes and a revamp of corporate structure.
The chairman, who was appointed to BHP’s board a year ago, has met with more than 100 investors on a global tour in Australia, the US and the UK While he said he listened to their views, MacKenzie insists that the board and management will make any decisions.
"It is the role of the board as the company’s stewards to listen and be responsive to our stakeholders," MacKenzie said. "But ultimately, it is up to the board to choose the course it believes will best benefit shareholders."
Responding to one shareholder who asked if it was billionaire Paul Singer, who heads Elliott, who was really running the company, the chairman responded that it was “Mr Mackenzie and Mr MacKenzie” who are in charge.
There are already set to be changes to BHP’s board, with Malcolm Brinded stepping down this month and with three other directors having already racked up more than seven years of service. MacKenzie is reviewing the different types of boardroom expertise that may be required in a future expected to feature more price volatility.
"We recognise that the board needs to continue to evolve to take into account the rapidly changing environment in which we operate," the chairman said Thursday. "We will undertake a review of the board skills and experience requirements during this financial year."