Finweek English Edition - - Openers - DAVID MCKAY

MAN­AG­ING BHP BIL­LI­TON is about as big as it gets in the world’s min­ing in­dus­try. The group sells some US$100m in met­als to cus­tomers ev­ery day, ac­cord­ing to CEO Chip Goodyear, who an­nounced last week he would re­tire from the firm be­fore the end of the 2007 cal­en­dar year.

The com­pany’s also on the crest of a wave.

Tak­ing over the busi­ness now would be an in­ter­est­ing propo­si­tion. That’s ex­actly the task that may fall to Mar­ius Klop­pers, the 44-year-old South African who cur­rently man­ages BHP Bil­li­ton’s non-fer­rous di­vi­sion. Klop­pers doesn’t want to com­ment much on be­ing named Goodyear’s anointed. He did say in Cape Town last week, how­ever: “I haven’t thought about the suc­ces­sion. It’s still a bit fresh.

“I think the im­por­tant thing is to pros­e­cute all of the busi­ness and get through the next year.” He’s not dis­count­ing the spec­u­la­tion ei­ther. Why would he? Run­ning BHP Bil­li­ton is pin­na­cle-type stuff. The top of the min­ing world’s Ever­est.

Klop­pers has a lot go­ing for him. If ap­pointed CEO, he would as­sume the po­si­tion at a sim­i­lar age to Goodyear him­self, who suc­ceeded the only other South African to run BHP Bil­li­ton, none other than Brian Gil­bert­son. Klop­pers is also the youngest ex­ec­u­tive on BHP Bil­li­ton’s board, whose 14 mem­bers have an av­er­age age of about 58 years.

Re­puted to tap his hand and say his name was “Klop­per” when shak­ing hands, Klop­pers has an en­gag­ing, bright man­ner. Dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence call to share­hold­ers it was to him Goodyear most fre­quently de­ferred. He clearly has stand­ing.

He was a pupil at Help­mekaar in Jo­han­nes­burg and grad­u­ated from Tukkies. Add to this an MBA from MIT in the States. No doubt a very bright fel­low.

He has been with BHP Bil­li­ton since work­ing on the Hill­side alu­minium project in KwaZulu-Na­tal. He also spent time with Sa­man­cor Man­ganese (60% owned by BHP Bil­li­ton).

Said Rob Clifford, an an­a­lyst at ABN Amro Hold­ings, in an in­ter­view with Bloomberg News: “As the strat­egy man­ager, he’s been in­volved in all as­pects of the busi­ness from cop­per po­si­tion­ing, iron ore price talks and alu­mina pric­ing. That stands him in good stead for the po­si­tion.”

He’s also pos­i­tive re­gard­ing the group’s prospects in Africa. “About half of BHP Bil­li­ton’s ex­plo­ration bud­get is now in Africa. I think we may be the largest sin­gle landowner in the (DRC) Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo,” he says. There are early stage plans to build an alu­mina plant in the DRC and the pos­si­bil­ity of buy­ing con­trol in a baux­ite mine and smelter in Guinea.

Fi­nally, talk that BHP Bil­li­ton was re­treat­ing from its SA en­ergy coal busi­ness has been dis­missed.

Klop­pers, a bit of an IT freak, has a fam­ily home­page. He is a veg­e­tar­ian, per­haps ac­count­ing for his slim, well-kept look. He looks as if he’s in his mid-thir­ties, not 44.

He is mar­ried to Karin and has three chil­dren. They live in Melbourne.

He clearly has stand­ing.

Mar­ius Klop­pers

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