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 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 15:23 GMT
Boss of mining giant quits
BHP Billiton
The company's strategy remains unchanged, focusing on natural resources
The chief executive of the mining giant BHP Billiton has resigned because of differences with the company's board of directors.

Brian Gilbertson stepped down after just six months as chief executive of the world's biggest mining firm.

Neither Mr Gilbertson or the company has given any details of the disagreements that led to his departure. He has been replaced as chief executive by the group's chief development officer, Charles Goodyear.

The Anglo-Australian group's shares dropped nearly 4% to close down 41 Australian cents at A$9.92 on Monday in Sydney as investors wondered about the reasons.

In London, BHP Billiton's shares dropped 3% to 325.5 pence.

BHP Billiton is based in London and Melbourne, and also has a strong presence in South Africa, where Billiton was originally based.


In a stock exchange statement, BHP Billiton's board said Mr Gilbertson, a South African, was leaving immediately because of "irreconcilable differences" with the boards of the group's UK and Australian arms.

It added that BHP Billiton would continue with the strategic approach outlined last year.

The Australian stock market regulator asked for a fuller explanation. It got a reassurance from the company that Mr Gilbertson's departure was "not related to any concerns by the board over the financial performance of the group".

Analysts speculated that the departure may have been due to differences over strategy between the two halves of the 18-month old merger of BHP and Billiton, or to opposing views on whether to make acquisitions.

The group is currently investing heavily in developing new projects but has not made an acquisition for almost a year, leading to speculation that the departing chief executive may have felt it was time for some shopping.

Billiton denied rumours that there had been a disagreement over moving the company's headquarters to the UK from Melbourne, Australia.

Mystified investors

"Goodyear is likely to be more focused on organic growth than on acquisitions," said Mark Pervan, an analyst at Daiwa Securities in Sydney.

"It's been known for a while....that there are differences between people on the Billiton and BHP side," said Ian Maxwell, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney in Sydney.

Others wondered if Mr Gilbertson's independent style had led to a clash with the board and that more departures would follow.

"I don't think it's all over," said one London fund manager.

"There are one or two Billiton people still walking around and could still get 'shot'.....It's a bit of a mess really."

Able successor?

The board praised its departing chief executive as one of "the primary architects of the successful merger of BHP and Billiton that has made the group one of the world's leading resources companies".

Mr Gilbertson was credited with building up London-based Billiton through acquisitions and played a major role in merging it with the Australian group BHP.

Some analysts questioned the ability of Mr Goodyear to fill the chief executive's shoes.

"Chip (Goodyear) has not been asked to be chief executive before so quite how he will approach it is still a bit of an unknown quantity," said Graham Birch, the London-based manager of Merrill Lynch's World Mining Trust.

  The BBC's Rodney Smith
"It's almost certainly a clash of personalities."
See also:

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