Cynthia Carroll dramatically quit as chief executive of Anglo American yesterday, in the face of investor pressure that analysts allege was fuelled by sexism.
Insisting that it was her own choice to resign, Anglo American’s first female chief executive said it was time to go as she entered a seventh year in a what is “very gruelling and demanding role”.
Ms Carroll, an American who became chief executive in 2007 and has no job to go to, will stay in her role until a successor is found next year.
Her resignation comes after mounting pressure from shareholders, who were disappointed with the way she was running the company.
One top 10 investor, who has lobbied for her removal, said: “We are not unhappy at the news. The important thing for the company now is to get someone credible to lead the business.”
The shares added 76.0p, or 4 per cent, to 1,933.5p.
Analysts said Ms Carroll had certainly made mistakes during her tenure, in particular over her decision to buy the entire Minas Rio iron ore project in Brazil, which is billions of dollars over budget, with first production currently scheduled for late 2014, five years behind schedule. However, they believed the resulting damage these setbacks have dealt to her reputation in the City and mining community had been disproportionate.
Des Kilalea, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said: “A lot of the bad publicity she got was unfair and over-the-top compared to her male peers. Anglo has undoubtedly made some mistakes, but which of the miners hasn’t?”
Another analyst added: “I’ve always thought Cynthia Carroll didn’t get enough credit for carrying through the recession without a rights issue. It could be that she’s not a man.”
Alex Vanselow, the Brazilian former finance director of BHP, emerged as the clear front-runner for Ms Carroll’s job yesterday. Mr Vanselow stunned the City last November when he announced he would be leaving after 23 years because he wanted to run a company.
Mick Davis, the chief executive of Xstrata, has also been mooted. He is due to leave the company if its merger with Glencore is approved, although Anglo’s chairman Sir John Parker yesterday said “we can’t afford Mike Davis”. He didn’t rule out Mr Vanselow, however.
Whoever takes over will inherit what the City is calling “the toughest job in mining”. The South African mining industry, which accounts for about half of Anglo American’s revenues, is notoriously difficult to navigate, with companies frequently getting squeezed between the government and highly politicised trade unions. Furthermore, platinum mining is especially dangerous because the mineral is contained in hard rock, deep underground.
The company is presently reviewing Amplats, in which it holds an 80 per cent stake, with a view to selling part or all of the stake, or restructuring the operation.
Cynthia Carroll is known in some quarters as “Cyanide Cynthia” for her role in pushing an environmentally controversial dam project in Alaska.
But to the corporate world, she is much better known as one of the most powerful women in business, the chief executive of Anglo American.
The straight-talking 55-year-old American, who is married with four children, joined Anglo American in 2007 from the aluminium giant Alcan.
Ms Carroll, who has an MBA from Harvard, took over a company that was bureaucratic and unfocused and set about putting things right. As the company’s first female – and first non-South African – chief executive, her willingness to take tough decisions alienated people from the start, as she embarked on a major restructuring which resulted in a series of asset sales and 40,000 redundancies.
Ms Carroll has significantly strengthed relations with the South African government, improved safety and diversified the business away from its reliance on South Africa – although the country still accounts for about half its revenues. But critics point out that the Minas Rio iron ore project in Brazil is massively over time and budget, Anglo American Platinum has not handled the strikes at its South African mines very well, and the group’s shares have significantly underperformed rivals.