Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Graham Kerr

Graham Kerr

South32

IN public, Graham Kerr is amiable and imperturbable. “Disarming”, one colleague called him. Behind the scenes, he is not to be messed with. South32 took the Department of Mineral Resources to court after its months of bumbling over the granting of a licence for South32’s $250m Klipspruit life extension project. The licence was granted, but shortly after South32 said it no longer wanted to be in South African coal. Eskom’s supplier ownership requirements – coupled with a one-sided, poorly-drafted Mining Charter imposed on mining companies – no doubt also played a role, though Kerr puts the stress on investors’ increasing aversion to thermal coal. South32 is not exiting South Africa, not yet anyway. It retains manganese and aluminium. Kerr was regarded as the unfortunate custodian of BHP’s unwanted short-life assets when South32 listed separately in 2015, but the wheel turns. In 2017, South32’s share price appreciation outpaced BHP’s as the market found favour with manganese, coal, zinc and aluminium. Media and investors who kept pressing South32 for detail on its growth and acquisition strategy in its first months found Kerr’s response that it would “... only be opportunistic and only where we see value” pretty unsatisfying; after all, isn’t that what all CEOs say? South32’s growth has not been through large-scale acquisitions, but smaller, low-risk investments.

LIFE OF GRAHAM

He spent 21 years with BHP Billiton, now BHP, ultimately as its CFO, before becoming South32’s CEO. Although he holds a degree in accounting and information systems, he has spent his career in the mining industry and his passion is running operations, not balancing ledgers. He lives in Perth with his wife and four children.