Anglo American CEO defends leadership amid commodity price slump and operational challenges

Amidst slumping commodity prices and operational challenges, Anglo American Plc’s CEO, Duncan Wanblad, asserts his capability to reshape the century-old miner. Facing pressure from shareholders and potential activist intervention, Wanblad defends his leadership by emphasising the importance of delivering value beyond activist expectations. The company’s recent production cuts aim to enhance profitability, but concerns persist. Wanblad remains open to further strategic measures, contingent on commodity price trends, as Anglo navigates challenges from falling metal prices and operational hurdles, particularly at the Los Bronces mine in Chile.

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By Thomas Biesheuvel

Anglo American Plc’s boss said he’s the best person to reshape the century-old miner — if needed — as slumping commodity prices pressure its sprawling operations and spark murmurs about activist intervention.

The company stunned shareholders in December when it announced deep production cuts to reduce costs, wiping out almost a fifth of its market value in just one day. While problems at its platinum and iron ore operations in South Africa had been well publicized, big output drops from its flagship copper business in South America came as a surprise. 

Anglo says that reset puts it in a position to focus on getting more profit from the less metal it mines. But the scale of the operational snarls has heightened focus on the company’s leadership — both for executives and the board — with speculation lingering that it could be a target for activist investors.

Responding to that, Chief Executive Officer Duncan Wanblad says it’s “really important” that he can deliver value that’s in excess of whatever an activist would think it is, especially with such a complex portfolio.

“I’m not sure many people understand that and how to actually bring the value out,” the CEO said in an interview in Cape Town. “But I do, and the people in this company do, and they will get on and get it done.”

Anglo’s production pullback has led some investors and analysts to call for more action, from selling assets to bringing in a partner or slowing spending at a giant fertilizer mine it’s building in England. While there’s no need to do that for now, Wanblad said he’s prepared to take more steps to reshape the business should slumping commodity prices persist.

“As it’s set out today we can get through it,” he said. “It depends very much on the cash generation.”

Still, the producer continues to be hampered by falling prices of the diamonds and platinum metals it mines, while copper and nickel prices are also under pressure.

“The longer that goes on, the more action we we will take,” Wanblad said. Anglo would look first at operating costs and then its capital spending, he said.

The production woes have added to a list of problems that Wanblad, who has held the top job for almost two years, was already facing. He stepped into the role with a guage of commodity prices at a record, though the market has since slumped. The company’s portfolio has also been hit by issues from extreme weather to a breakdown in crucial infrastructure in South Africa.

Its biggest problem is its Los Bronces mine in Chile. Like many of the industry’s biggest copper mines, the operation is more than 100 years old and Anglo is now struggling with hard ore that contains low grades of metal. Rather than mine this expensive-to-process ore, the company has decided to wait until it can blend it with higher grade material. Unfortunately for Anglo, that will take several years.

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