Mining giant Anglo American certainly couldn't be accused of taking the easy option when it decided to appoint Cynthia Carroll as its new chief executive. Anglo American executives have always been South Africans, and have normally been at the company man and boy. As the American president of Alcan Primary Metal, not only was Carroll not South African and a woman to boot, but also a virtual unknown in the insular mining industry. Their scepticism proved to be widely shared: immediately after the appointment, Anglo American's shares dropped 36p.
However, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, chairman of Anglo-American, said the company had been looking for someone with international exposure and experience in a capital- intensive long-cycle business - and not necessarily someone from the mining industry: "You balance internal talents with external talents. When you are looking for change, an external appointment has its merits."
Only the third female chief executive of a FTSE 100 company, Carroll will be one of Britain's most senior women executives. A lot will be expected of her. Founded in 1917, Anglo American now operates across 60 countries and employs just under 200,000 people. But despite its size, the company has struggled in recent years. Its share price has lagged behind rivals such as Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, which are seen as leaner and more flexible. A major restructuring has helped to raise the share price in the last year, but Anglo American is still considered a prime takeover target. Interested parties are rumoured to include Russian steel giant Rusal, Swiss-based mining group Xstrata and Rio Tinto.
The scepticism that greeted Carroll's appointment was partly due to industry snobbery: aluminium is not taken as seriously as more traditional mining sectors such as gold, diamonds, iron ore or coal. But she is an experienced geologist and has worked with Alcan's open-pit bauxite mines around the world: "I've been running the metals part, which is core - it accounts for 75% of the business this year." For the past four years she has been involved in Alcan's Coega aluminium smelter project in South Africa, from where Anglo American generates 40% of its earnings.
Whether this will be enough to satisfy the sceptics remains to be seen. Carroll, who will not take over from outgoing CEO Tony Trahar until March 2007, already has her priorities set out. "I'm looking forward to understanding what further potential there is within our asset base, and how we continue to grow that. We will also want to complete the restructuring and move forward. I have a lot to do."
CV AT A GLANCE...
Education: Master's in geology, University of Kansas; MBA, Harvard
1982: Senior petroleum geologist, Amoco Production Company
1991: Vice-president and general manager, Alcan Foil Products
1996: Managing director, Aughinish Alumina, Ireland
1998: President, Alcan Bauxite, Alumina and Specialty Chemicals
2002: President and CEO, Alcan Primary Metal
2007: CEO, Anglo American
IN COMPARISON.... LEIGH CLIFFORD, RIO TINTO
Leigh Clifford became chief executive of global mining company Rio Tinto in 2000 after a career with the Rio Tinto group of more than 30 years, including six years working undergound. The Anglo-Australian group is the world's second largest mining company, after BHP Billiton, with $2 billion worth of projects currently underway. The group has felt the benefits of a boom in world metal prices, particularly copper, and record production levels saw full-year profits more than doubling to $4.9 billion in 2005.
Under Clifford, the company has put a lot of energy into cleaning up its image, particularly its involvement in a mine in Papua New Guinea, but its AGM this year was marked by demonstrations by environmental groups.
Clifford will be replaced as chief executive in May by Tom Albanese, currently head of group resources.
CV AT A GLANCE...
Education: Bachelor of engineering; Master's in engineering science,
University of Melbourne
1970: Joins Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA)
1994: Mining director, RTZ Corp, London
1996: Managing director, CRA, Melbourne
1999: CEO, global energy product group, Rio Tinto
2000: CEO, Rio Tinto Group