Watch your back at Anglo


[] — THE survivors of this week’s cull of top management at Anglo American must be experiencing mixed emotions at this point.

While Norman Mbazima, Duncan Wanblad and Seamus French deserve congratulations on their appointments, they would do well to reflect on the fate of their axed colleagues.

What is so radical about the departures of Ian Cockerill, Russell King and Philip Baum is that these were executives who had previously earned CEO Cynthia Carroll’s stamp of approval or been recruited by her.

According to a source, King -the group’s chief strategist – in particular was one of Carroll’s former blue-eyed boys.

Earlier high-profile departures -such as those of former Anglo Platinum CEO Ralph Havenstein and former Anglo Coal head John Wallington – were executives she had inherited and then fallen out with.

The removal of Cockerill is particularly notable. Carroll persuaded him in April 2008 to leave his position as CEO of Gold Fields – one of the top jobs in the global mining industry.

I wrote at the time (April 25) that his move appeared to make little sense because he was giving up control of his own destiny to run an unlisted division reporting to Carroll – who had “shown herself to be a boss with very strong views on specific agendas her executives had better implement – or else’.

Cockerill declines to comment on what happened. There are suggestions his relationship with Carroll had deteriorated in recent months.

There are further suggestions that the relationship was not helped by market speculation doing the rounds a few months back to the effect that Cockerill was a possible replacement for Carroll.

The Financial Times’ Lex Column picked up on that on Friday, describing Cockerill as “a competent pretender to her throne’.

A key point also made by Lex is that Cockerill “did nothing wrong’. Neither did his predecessor John Wallington. Both ran Anglo Coal well, but that did not stop Carroll getting rid of them.

The new blue-eyed boys on the block – Mbazima and Wanblad – might want to keep that in mind. Carroll greatly praised them for their prior services as acting joint CEOs at Anglo Platinum.

They would now appear to have been duly rewarded, with Mbazima taking over SA coal operations and Wanblad being put in charge of non-core assets.

Mbazima is taking over the SA coal position from incumbent Ben Magara and it’s not yet clear where Magara is going, although a senior position at Anglo Platinum has been suggested.

The $64,000 question is why Carroll has acted so decisively now and – you guessed it – the market and Anglo American have differing views on that one.

The prevailing view in the market is that this is the result of the pressure brought to bear on Anglo by Xstrata CEO Mick Davis, and his “nil premium merger’ bid.

That pressure remains very real, even though Xstrata has backed away from the bid – for now – and in terms of UK takeover regulations cannot go near Anglo for six months.

According to a leading analyst, “Anglo shareholders should be sending Mick Davis Christmas cards this year because the Anglo share price would sit nowhere near where it does now without his intervention.’

The analyst also reckons management changes taking place now are a direct consequence of the Xstrata pressure.

“Anglo is doing what it should have done years ago. I think (new chairman) John Parker has had a big impact. The pressure being exerted from Xstrata is unbelievable, and Anglo will never be the same after this. “

That’s not the way Anglo sees it. Anglo spokesperson James Wyatt-Tilby said: “The changes are the result of a review of the organisational structure at Anglo which started in January. They are the logical next steps in the creation of a more streamlined and efficient organisation.

“Shareholders have been very supportive of the changes that Cynthia Carroll has implemented.’

The analyst agrees that shareholders are being more supportive at present compared to the situation four or so months ago, when general sentiment was that Anglo was a total mess and she had to go – it was just a matter of when.

But the analyst proposes other reasons influencing that change of heart. He believes the recent visit by analysts to some of Anglo’s operations in South America had a huge beneficial influence.

“That trip went down very well. There was a realisation that the operational management on the ground was a lot better than at head office.’

He also believes Carroll herself has changed in recent months and is engaging with influential shareholders a lot more than she did previously.

That helps, although he believes a poll of shareholders would still show the vast majority would rather have Davis running Anglo than Carroll.

He also believes Parker has helped by “rallying the troops’ around Carroll to some extent, although there are differing views on that one as well.

Other speculation suggests that Carroll and Anglo finance director Rene Medori are not seeing eye to eye on a number of issues.

One thing can be stated with certainty -the decision to cull some 2,700 middle managers and white-collar staff changes Anglo forever.

Long gone are the days when, as one former Anglo staffer put it, “you knew your career was over at Anglo when they stuck you in an office with peeling linoleum and a cheeky tea waiter’.