KLOPPERS KNOCKING ON THE POST
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.