Rio Tinto Group named industry veteran Simon Thompson as chairman after shareholders rejected a plan to install a renowned dealmaker — reinforcing an industry-wide investor drive for higher returns and caution over project spending.
Thompson, 58, a Rio director since 2014 and previously an executive director at Anglo American Plc, will succeed Jan du Plessis from March 5, London-based Rio said Monday in a statement. Du Plessis, who’s held the post since 2009, is stepping down after taking up the same position at BT Group Plc.
The mining sector is under pressure from big investors and hedge funds to keep a tight grip on capital spending and boost shareholder returns as earnings rise, following a failed mergers and acquisitions spree sparked by the commodity boom. Thompson said that he’ll ensure Rio continues to deliver superior returns for shareholders by maintaining its capital discipline and value-over-volume approach.
Investors are likely to back Thompson’s plan to continue a cautious strategy, with many still wary of the sector’s legacy of botched M&A, including by Rio, Adrian Prendergast, a Melbourne-based analyst at Morgans Financial Ltd., said by phone. “A seemingly conservative choice is certainly going to be very positively received in our view,” he said.
The company, which began the hunt for a new chairman in 2016, had to restart its search after the investor backlash against Mick Davis, the former Xstrata Plc chief. The proposal was halted after a letter dated Nov. 21 sent from shareholders with about 20 percent of Rio’s U.K. shares demanded a candidate who’d show discipline in allocating capital.
Ken MacKenzie, installed in September as chairman of BHP Billiton Ltd. amid an activist-investor campaign for improved performance, has flagged plans to keep a tight focus on project spending and is carrying out a review of the producer’s process to allocate capital.
Thompson is chairman of U.K. buyout firm 3i Group Plc and has also served on the boards of Newmont Mining Corp., Tullow Oil Plc and United Co. Rusal. He will need to handle the continuing fallout from Rio’s past failed deals, including fraud charges filed by U.S. authorities against former executives over allegations tied to coal assets acquired in Mozambique in 2011.