Enter Kloppers

DID Brian Gilbertson win after all? That's one reaction to the announcement from BHP Billiton that it has appointed a Gilbertson acolyte as its next chief executive. Comment by TIM TREADGOLD.
Enter Kloppers Enter Kloppers Enter Kloppers Enter Kloppers Enter Kloppers

Marius Kloppers, reputedly a full fee paying member of the resource sectors "stronger for longer" club, was originally recruited by Gilbertson in the days when Billiton was an independent and very South African company.

Kloppers' intensity of personality is said to reflect that of Gilbertson who, somewhat curiously, just happens to be in Australia at the same time his protégé gets the job he held for a few months in Melbourne.

It will take time to see whether Kloppers suffers the same fate as Gilbertson, who ran foul of the Melbourne establishment, never really liked living or working in Australia, and was far too aggressive for the conservative BHP Billiton board.

From what has been reported previously about Kloppers, he is very much a man who wants to be in total control.

Earlier this year, the Age newspaper in Melbourne noted how the Cape Town-born Kloppers used to run the commodities trading desk of BHP with an iron fist.

Kloppers maintained what was called a "clean desk" policy. In other words, nothing personal, not even pictures of the wife and kids, were to distract the job of making money for the company.

The night cleaners were allegedly instructed to remove any "offending" material.

A chemical engineering graduate with an MBA, Kloppers is said to have been receiving instructions in Melbourne on how to behave in a more relaxed way to avoid the problems encountered by the equally hard-driven Gilbertson.

What everyone now wants to see is whether Kloppers, who is also said to be a strict vegetarian, really has changed his spots.

On the plus side, there is no doubt that the resources boom is a time for bold and aggressive management, and the old boys from Billiton have plenty of that.

In a speech given in New York to a Goldman Sachs conference in March, Kloppers dismissed the February stock market correction in China as not reflecting the real world.

"We look at the Chinese correction in the stock market that has shaken everybody in the western world as having nothing to do with underlying demand," he said then in a remark that could just as easily apply today.

Another observation is that Kloppers comes from the same Gilbertson-led school of management that produced Mick Davis, the driving force behind miner Xstrata.

Kloppers, if he shows the same aggressive corporate tendencies, could be just the man to catapult BHP up to a new level.

For starters, there is little doubt Kloppers would be more likely than Goodyear to launch the takeover raid on Rio Tinto that Gilbertson first talked about when he ran BHP.

That's the good news.

The potential negative is that the board of BHP will discover that it has appointed a man who is too aggressive, too driven, too focused and too inflexible.

Let the fun begin!


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