NEWSMAKER-Ivan Glasenberg's long walk to Glencore gold

Fri Mar 4, 2011 10:58am EST

* A former South Africa and Israel champion race walker

* Hired as a coal trader by Glencore in South Africa in 1983

* Long harboured ambition to take over mining group Xstrata

By Quentin Webb and Eric Onstad

LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - As head of the world's largest commodity trader, Ivan Glasenberg knows everything has a price, even his own closely guarded privacy.

Glencore's [GLEN.UL] decision to end years of secrecy with a policy of "Glasnost" ahead of a possible initial public offering (IPO) puts the publicity-shy 54-year-old fully in the limelight.

There's the obvious lure of a $60-billion valuation, but insiders say Glasenberg's ambition is for a greater prize than a personal windfall.

He recognises the constraints of a private partnership in making big acquisitions, and the need to avoid big capital outflows in the event of partners leaving the company.

Sacrificing his anonymity appears to be a price worth paying for the former South Africa and Israel champion race walker.

The glare of publicity may be a challenge.

"If you ask Ivan what's your biggest concern about going public, and why wouldn't you want to go public, it's being a public figure, not the actual disclosure. He likes being anonymous," said one outsider who has worked closely with senior Glencore officials.

Glasenberg, who grew up in South Africa during apartheid, has worked his way to the top over a quarter century, helping build Glencore into one of the world's biggest private firms.

After earning an MBA at the University of Southern California in 1984, Glasenberg was hired as a coal trader in South Africa, rising to become chief executive at the company's Swiss HQ in 2002, via jobs in Australia, Hong Kong and Beijing.

A strict regime of a daily run or swim keeps him lean, while a mean side sometimes surfaces in the form of a fiery temper.

But the billionaire is also known for his charm, with a sharp memory for details about people and an ability to engage with them.

"The thing about Ivan, he can fly in and meet presidents of countries but he also talks to the guy on the trading floor," said Jim Cochrane, chief commercial officer and executive director of the Kazakh mining group ENRC.

XSTRATA EYED

It has long been Glasenberg's ambition to merge Glencore with London-listed Xstrata XTA.L. Glencore owns just over a third of the miner and the two already share a chairman in Willy Strothoffe.

Xstrata's assets could, at a stroke, fill gaps in Glencore's portfolio to create a mining and trading powerhouse.

But despite knowing him well, Glasenberg has so far been unable to persuade Xstrata CEO Mick Davis to do a deal, leading some to think a Glencore IPO is a first step towards a bid.

Glasenberg embodies the shrewd, hard-hitting qualities that have taken Glencore to the pinnacle of the commodities world. Under his leadership, Glencore has stuck to a culture encouraged by founder Marc Rich. It likes to promote from within, building a closed, self-sustaining network of top traders.

He has also been been key in moulding a tightly knit firm that reminds some outsiders of Goldman Sachs before it went public: "Ivan is very central to the culture," says one, adding that as with Goldman, that ethos involves "real allegiance to the organisation and an incredible identification culturally".

It also involves Stakhanovite amounts of work and travel. "Their work ethic is second to none," said the first outsider.

"The key people, Ivan included, are on a plane, at mines, meeting trading partners, probably 70-80 percent of the time. If they are in Zug more than one day a week I think they get a rollicking email saying, 'Why the hell aren't you out?'"

Glasenberg mixes lucrative financial rewards and competitive pressure to get the best out of employees, while maintaining a flat management structure.

His competitive streak is illustrated by his sporting achievements. He only missed competing in the 1984 Olympics because of a technicality relating to his Israeli nationality, according to a rare interview he gave to the magazine of the University of Southern California's Marshall business school.

Glasenberg, born in 1957 and married with a son and daughter, became intrigued with commodities trading when studying accountancy in South Africa, the magazine said.

"I observed a man sourcing candle wax from South America and selling it to Japan. I thought, 'That's unbelievable. Talking on the phone in his office, that man made money moving candle wax from one country to another.' It really interested me." (Writing by Alexander Smith; Editing by Sitaraman Shankar)

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