Gilbertson in Anglo takeover mix

[] — ANYBODY following the career of Brian Gilbertson, president of Sual, knows there’s a storybook neatness to the speculation he wants to engineer a reverse takeover of Anglo American.

As head of Gencor in the Nineties, Anglo American represented big brother, a South African colossus he was only able to eclipse after Gencor’s unbundling, a merger with Billiton and one London listing later.

Anglo American was also Gilbertson’s first employer, roughly. He began his corporate career at JCI, part of the Anglo American progeny, as indeed so much was in Johannesburg during this period.

The second point is that by subsuming Anglo American, Gilbertson would be creating a £50bn rival to BHP Billiton, the board of which pressed him into resignation in 2001 for – ironically – attempting its merger with Rio Tinto, or possibly an oil company.

Given that Gilbertson said Sual would be his last job, the takeover of Anglo American is what they call in show business, a big finish.

Still, there’s much to do assuming The Times is correct in its October 21 speculation that Anglo American will be the first target of the enlarged $30bn Rusal, itself a catalyst to a merger with Sual – which Gilbertson currently heads – and Glencore.

He’d have to finance the deal, though one expects that’s not a problem. Before that, however, he’d have to marshall enough influence on the board of Rusal to win support for the proposal. That might be more problematic. Sometimes Gilbertson’s ambition is too vaunting, too rich for others. Just ask Don Argus, BHP Billiton chairman who was instrumental in ejecting Gilbertson.

“He is acting more like an executive chairman than a non-executive [of Rusal] and he is putting people in place so he can control Rusal. His aim is to complete the integration of Rusal and Sual and go after Anglo American,’ an unnamed source told The Times.

These people include Mike Salamon, a former executive director of BHP Billiton currently serving “garden leave’.

Interestingly, Johannesburg has been buzzing with speculation that Salamon could buy himself out of his restraint in order to head Anglo American which is looking for its own replacement CEO. Tony Trahar, current Anglo CEO, is to leave in March and there’s no successor on the radar as yet.

David Munro is another executive who could join Gilbertson, The Times said. Munro headed Billiton’s aluminium division before it was merged with BHP. Following the merger, he seemed to temporarily pass into obscurity. Munro is currently a director of Kazakhmys, a London listed copper producer with assets in Khazakstan, Germany and the UK.

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Anglo is a vulnerable company. Bereft of a strong, long-term leader, and finalising a strategy of ‘streamlining’ (that has an element of panic in it), it is now small enough, and troubled enough to warrant a takeover. The plan is for Gilbertson to reverse Rusal into Anglo achieving the London listing the Russian firm needs.

Taking the speculation to its bitter end, one would then see a threshing out of assets Gilbertson would review as surplus to needs. AngloGold Ashanti is already being sold, a decision taken earlier this year by Trahar.

They’d be other changes too, particularly relevant for South Africans. Gilbertson has never liked deep, hardrock mining and worked hard to dilute Billiton’s exposure to South Africa while he controlled the company.

Removing Anglo would also have a profound effect on the psychology of South Africans who view the company as a historic bedrock of their economy.