Cynthia Carroll: Rough ride ends for the 'outsider' at Anglo American

She suffered sexism in the City, but there were highs
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The Independent Online

In one of the most infamous business interviews of recent times, Anglo American's Cynthia Carroll was written off by a former deputy chairman of her company in a few harsh words. "This woman's hopeless," he said.

As chief executive of South Africa's Anglo American, which is listed in London, Carroll is the ultimate outsider doing what has been dubbed the "toughest job in mining".

So, in some ways at least, it's probably safe to assume she is looking fondly towards life after Friday, when she is scheduled to make her final public appearance for the company. She announces annual results for the sixth and last time before stepping down from the helm on 3 April.

Carroll was Anglo American's first female – and first non-South African – chief executive. If that wasn't enough, she came to the top job from outside Anglo American, where the tradition had previously been to hand the position to a well-groomed insider.

She was finally forced to resign in October after months of pressure from shareholders, who are likely to feel vindicated by the latest set of results. Carroll, a straight-talking American, is set to announce a near-50 per cent decline in full-year operating profit, from $11bn (£7bn) in 2011 to an estimated $6bn last year – not much of a parting shot. Anglo American's bottom line suffered from falling commodity prices, rising costs and wildcat strikes at its South African platinum operation, which pushed the subsidiary into the red.

Analysts say that Carroll undoubtedly made mistakes during her tenure, in particular over her decision to buy the entire Minas Rio iron ore project in Brazil, which is now billions of dollars over budget and five years behind schedule.

However, according to a Charles Stanley analyst, Tom Gidley-Kitchin, she also did a lot of things right in what is an extremely difficult job."She's moved Anglo American in the right direction and freshened up the group as a whole.

"But you could say that maybe the task was too much for any one person to take on," he says.

Carroll's achievements include significantly tidying up the unfocused, bureaucratic sprawl she inherited in March 2007, improving relations with the South African government, reducing the company's heavy reliance on its homeland by prospecting abroad and greatly improving its poor safety record.

On top of doing an already difficult job, Carroll faced a barrage of criticism which, many believe, was exacerbated by her outsider status.

Anyone doubting the hurdles she faced – especially the bit about being a woman in an industry not known for its enlightened attitudes to gender – need look no further than that former deputy chairman, Graham Boustred.

Having proclaimed Carroll as a hopeless woman in the 2009 interview, he went on to suggest that it is difficult to find good female chief executives "because most women are sexually frustrated".

He kept digging: "Men are not because they can fall back on call girls. If you have a CEO who is sexually frustrated, she can't act properly." Another example of the kind of prejudice Carroll faced came from a senior banker, who lamented that she "spent far too much time on equality issues".

However, while Carroll has criticised the "gross under-representation of women in mining", there is little sign that she allocated a damaging amount of time to addressing the issue, and on the day she resigned made it clear that "the last thing you want is token women".

No doubt Carroll's replacement, Mark Cutifani, will in the future be condemned for some of his actions. But as a man he would appear to have one significant advantage over his predecessor which may afford him a little more leeway to make any mistakes.