Luksic stands down as Antofagasta chairman

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The Independent Online

Andronico Luksic has, apparently, always had a great sense of timing and yesterday he announced it was the right moment to step down as chairman of the copper miner Antofagasta, at the age of 78.

Mr Luksic, the son of a Croatian who emigrated to Chile in 1910, turned an obscure company that listed in London in 1888 into a FTSE 100 group, worth £2bn. He will hand over to his youngest son, Jean-Paul, 40, who has been deputy chairman.

The family stake in the company is 65 per cent but Andronico Luksic and his children also have many other business interests, including 82 per cent of Quinenco, one of Chile's biggest business conglomerates; a chain of hotels in Croatia and thousands of acres of prime farm land in Chile and Argentina. Forbes, the US business magazine, ranks the family as 140th richest in the world, with a net worth of $3.4bn. Even this may be a conservative figure, given the value of the Antofagasta holding alone.

Philip Adeane, the managing director of Antofagasta, said: "Andronico thought it was a good time [to step down]. He's always had good timing. He's such a personality. He built up the group. It's really his baby."

Mr Luksic, who comes from the town of Antofagasta in Chile, trained as a lawyer but grew to love mining and geology. He started acquiring mining assets in Chile in the 1950s. He suffered a major setback in the 1970s when the country's left-wing Allende government nationalised many of his business interests. But after the Pinochet coup in 1973, Mr Luksic prospered again.

In 1980, Mr Luksic acquired, "very cheaply" according to Mr Adeane, a controlling stake in the Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Company, then a poorly run business which owned a railway transporting metals from mines in Chile and Bolivia. It is possibly the oldest continuously listed company in London.

Mr Luksic took Antofagasta into actually owning mines and has run the group from Chile.

The company acquired Chile's Los Pelambres copper mine - the world's sixth largest - in 1986, again on the cheap, from Midland Bank, which had ended up owning the asset after a loan default.

Mr Adeane said he had not heard any indication from Mr Luksic that the family would reduce its holding. "He says there's not another share he'd rather own."

Antofagasta has benefited from the surge in copper prices, which have hit 16-year highs this year, on the back of booming world demand. Mr Adeane suggested the good conditions would continue.

"We don't think China's growth will suddenly fall down to 3 per cent. They have an insatiable appetite [for metals]. And India's not far behind. The demand is just huge," Mr Adeane said.