Rio Tinto boss steps down amid talk of move to BP

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The Independent Online

Paul Skinner, the chairman of the mining group Rio Tinto, is to step down amid speculation that he is set to take the same role at the oil giant BP.

Mr Skinner, who has run Rio for five years, will quit after the company's annual general meeting on 20 April and be replaced by Jim Leng, who is currently head of Tata Steel Europe. Mr Skinner said: "After the termination of the BHP Billiton pre-conditional offers for the group, and the identification of a well-qualified successor, now is a good time for me to announce my decision to stand down."

Market sources said Mr Skinner was being lined up to replace Peter Sutherland as chairman of BP. Mr Sutherland has indicated he will step down this summer. One source close to the oil company said he was "a very strong candidate" but added that no decision had been taken. A spokes-man for BP declined to comment on the reports but said: "The search for a replacement for Peter Sutherland is ongoing."

Mr Skinner has a long association with the oil industry. He joined Royal Dutch Shell as a student in 1963, working across the group for the next four decades until heading the global oil products business in 1999. He was a group managing director from 2000 to 2003 before switching to Rio. While Mr Skinner's tenure at Rio was well regarded, some analysts were unhappy about his opposition to the take-over offer tabled last year by rival BHP Billiton, which later collapsed. However, Mr Skinner is keen not to be seen as deserting Rio, which has debts of $37bn dating from its takeover of Alcan in 2007.

Mr Leng, chairman of Tata Steel in Europe, has been drafted in to replace Mr Skinner as chairman-designate until taking on the role full time in April. Andrew Gould, a senior independent director of Rio Tinto the nominations committee had been seeking a successor to Mr Skinner since October.

Rio announced that it is seeking to raise $15bn through a series of disposals by the end of the year.