Cutifani needs free hand at Anglo

Jan 08 2013 20:04
Kevin Allison, Reuters
London - Mark Cutifani's operational nous and solid South African experience make him a good choice to succeed Cynthia Carroll as chief executive of Anglo American [JSE:AGL].

Cutifani's experience running a big gold company and heading up South Africa's mining industry association puts him in a good position to shake things up. But the miner's incoming boss should to be able to set his own agenda.

The Australian national will face a welter of challenges when he arrives in April. Minas Rio, the company's delay-plagued Brazilian iron ore project, is a money pit. South Africa, though, poses an existential problem.

After labour unrest at the end of last year, full production in Anglo's original homeland has not yet been restored. The strikes only worsened a difficult situation in platinum, which accounted for 26% of the company's net operating assets in the first half of 2012, but just 2% of operating profit.

Some shareholders want Anglo to dramatically shrink its exposure to the troublesome metal, either by closing underperforming mines, or - more radically - by splitting off the South African business.

An incoming CEO should be in an excellent position to examine such questions. Cutifani should have a good handle on the issues. He had a front row seat as Gold Fields [JSE:GFI], a rival precious metals producer, hived off its older South African mines in November.

But institutional inertia may tie Cutifani's hands at Anglo. Along with the announcement of his appointment came news of a new platinum strategy by the end of January. Anglo says Cutifani will be briefed before the decision is made; his input is welcome. But that's no substitute for him actually leading the analysis and making the final decision.

The decision not to delay the platinum review may reflect the influence of Anglo Chairman John Parker, who was known for his hands-on approach during Carroll's tenure. Investors should be wary of a personality clash.

If Anglo wants to show that Cutifani has the authority he needs to make it a stronger company, it should delay any big decision on platinum and let the new boss make the call.

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