Carroll under pressure from Anglo American investors

Amid a campaign to get more women in the boardroom, UK plc's top female leader comes under the cosh.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Cynthia Carroll, the CEO of Anglo American, hasn’t had a very nice start to her week: according to today’s Times, she’s lost the confidence of some of the mining giant’s biggest shareholders, who are unhappy with her leadership. Apparently they think she’s over-paid for recent acquisitions, and are angling for a merger with rival Xstrata. With problems still to be resolved at De Beers, not to mention the ongoing row about the appointment of a new chairman, this is just the sort of headache Carroll doesn’t need…

The report suggests that ‘some big investors’ have been selling their shares in Anglo in the last 12 months – and not because they don’t like mining stocks any more. ‘There are three reasons we sold: Cynthia, Cynthia and Cynthia,’ one shareholder is quoted as saying. ‘It's nothing personal (Eh? -Ed). We just don't think she has done a good job.’ Carroll clearly didn’t make any friends by axing the dividend to pay for the (pricey-looking) acquisition of Brazilian iron ore group MMX, while there’s still talk that Anglo may need to pump some cash into the ailing De Beers. Then there’s the chairman problem: first choice Sir John Parker was vetoed by the South African government (a big shareholder) and thus far no compromise candidate has been found.

Of course this anonymous source might well have an axe to grind, so perhaps we shouldn’t put too much stock in their views. Although Carroll may have over-paid on recent deals, so have most people in the sector - and she's widely credited with modernising Anglo from its old days as a rather sleepy South African institution, while still managing to improve relations with the SA Government. It's worth remembering that Anglo’s bond issue earlier this year was heavily over-subscribed, so clearly some investors do buy into her strategy.

However, she’s never seemed very interested in an Xstrata tie-up – and this story suggests that view is no longer universally popular. (Although since Xstrata boss Mick Davis would apparently be favourite to run the combined group, rather than Carroll, the deal probably looks a lot more attractive from where he's standing.)

One group hoping that Carroll can ride out the storm – given that she’s one of the very few women in the upper echelons of UK plc – is Women on Board, a new initiative launched today by former headhunter-supreme Anna Mann. The group wants to help get more women onto City boards via a networking and mentoring programme. Just 15% of FTSE 100 non-execs are female – but refreshingly, Mann doesn’t blame the companies for that, arguing that there aren’t enough women around with the right experience. The loss of a trail-blazer like Carroll certainly wouldn’t help the cause.

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