Mercury (Hobart)

How $55m could leave CEO feeling underpaid


BOY, if anyone’s got a serious beef about having been underpaid, it’s gotta be Andrew Mackenzie, the former CEO of Australia’s biggest company BHP.

In his six and a half years he trousered only $US40m in total – or around $55m at the current exchange rate.

In contrast, his predecesso­r Marius Kloppers took home double that, $US80m, or $110m at today’s exchange rate, over his shorter term, five and a half years.

And Mackenzie’s successor, Mike Henry has already totted up just over $US20m or $28m for just one and a half years at the top, since February last year.

But the raw deal for Mackenzie was actually worse than these numbers suggest.

He had to tidy up the mess left by Kloppers from BHP’s plunge into US shale oil.

You would sort of think that the guy who got BHP

out of shale oil, both minimising the capital losses

and stopping the ongoing haemorrhag­ing, might have got a bigger pay cheque than the guy who took it into shale and cost shareholde­rs something north of $US20bn.

And note, that’s ‘b’ for billion – not exactly petty cash even for a BHP. And note also, that while Kloppers as CEO might have driven the move into shale, the decision was ultimately signed off by the BHP board.

Yet in his time at the top Mackenzie never got an annual pay cheque greater than $US10m – the only time he came even close was in this first year.

While in his time at the top Kloppers never got an annual pay cheque lower than $US10m – except for his first – half- year in the job. Further, Mackenzie didn’t just oversee cleaning up the shale oil mess, he and his CFO Peter Beaven – and, to be fair, also Henry – built the BHP that was able to report that mammoth $18bn bottom-line after-tax profit for 2020-21.

Mackenzie and Beaven did two major things.

The big one was to refocus BHP on iron ore; to chase down the gap it had always had to Rio Tinto; and to ruthlessly and dramatical­ly drive down costs (as all three, including Fortescue, were doing).

When Mackenzie became CEO, BHP’s iron ore operating profit was $US11bn. In this latest year it was $US24bn.

The other major thing the duo did was wring out revenues and profit from what they called BHP’s latent production capacity – increased output from existing assets. All of which has set Henry up for whatever he plans to do – which he told us, of course: get BHP out of oil and gas and into potash.

Now, there was another ‘contributo­r’ of course to BHP’s good fortune. It’s called ‘China’ – and its voracious demand for Pilbara iron ore, so it can go about pumping everincrea­sing volumes of CO2.

China doesn’t just underwrite BHP’s – and Rio’s and Fortescue’s and the private Gina Rinehart’s – prosperity; it also underwrite­s Australia’s.

Last year, we got nearly 10 per cent of our entire GDP from selling iron ore – most of which goes to China and with the price set by China’s demand, whether or not it’s the buyer.

For how much longer, one might ask, and I certainly do.

Does the Chinese leadership really want to keep us in a lifestyle we haven’t really earned but we’ve come to take for granted, when at the same time it’s no longer our national ‘new best friend’?

Which raises a very interestin­g question: will – or should it be, when – does Rio follow BHP in abandoning its dual-listing?

And in its case does it locate in London or Melbourne? London Stock Exchange or ASX?

It has to be Melbourne/ ASX as that’s a no-brainer for both its Australian and British holders – especially the British ones – and the share price moves since BHP announced suggest that outcome.

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