HONG KONG (Reuters) - Simon Murray, the South Pole adventurer and former Vodafone board member, is in the running for the role of chairman at Glencore, the commodities giant set to detail plans for a $10 billion-plus listing later this week.
Murray, who lives and works in Hong Kong, has spent 45 years in Asia and has served on the boards of several major companies. The UK-born businessman said on Monday he had a long history of successful investment in the mining and resources sectors.
"This is very exciting, but you are talking to someone who has been chased by a leopard. You are talking to someone who has been shot at with a machine gun and missed," Murray told Reuters in an exclusive interview.
"As Mr. Churchill once said, the most exhilarating experience in life is to be shot at without result."
Murray, a former French Foreign Legionnaire, said he was one of three candidates on the shortlist for the position at the notoriously secretive trading and mining firm.
Glencore has yet to take a decision on the non-executive role but is widely expected to pick a name before Thursday, the day it is targeting to publish details of its listing for the first time in a so-called intention-to-float, according to sources familiar with the matter.
"It's premature to say anything; it will be the board's decision. They may feel I am a bit young for this," the 71-year-old joked in the 36th floor office of his private equity firm in Hong Kong's Cheung Kong Center.
Glencore's intention-to-float is expected to outline an eight-strong board, including five non-executive directors as well as a chairman to work alongside Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg and Chief Financial Officer Steven Kalmin.
Glencore's choice of new chairman, a necessity as the commodities giant abandons its once-fabled secrecy in favor of a London listing, is being watched by many as a test of the company's corporate governance credentials.
The successful candidate will have to hold his own against CEO Glasenberg, a notoriously tough dealer, and will also need to reassure investors that remain uneasy about a company that remains opaque to many and has dealings in some of the world's least palatable economies.
Some fund managers in London are skeptical Murray is the man for the job.
"Realistically, if they want to appoint a proper chairman for a five to 10-year period, is a 71 year old the right choice? Or is this just an interim one for the IPO?" said one London-based equities fund manager specializing in mining and commodities, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The much-anticipated initial public offering will see Glencore sell a roughly 15-20 percent stake, making it potentially the largest listing to date in London. It will dissolve the group's partnership structure and lift the veil after decades of secrecy, but will also hand the world's largest commodities trader the capacity to seize many more, and larger, acquisition opportunities.
The Hong Kong listing aims to capitalize on the deep pockets of investors in Asia, who are well acquainted with surging demand for metals and other natural resources from fast-growing economies in China and India.
"Natural resources are always quite exciting; they tend to turn up in the strangest places. So you get a good view of the world," Murray said. "This is an exciting company, this is absolutely the right sector today, commodities."
Murray, wearing a navy blue jacket, collared shirt and no tie, said that if selected as chairman, he'd "be on the phone with Ivan (Glasenberg) at least once a week."
"I've met Ivan, I like Ivan. Apart from anything else, he gave me a very, very long lift to the airport, which was very nice of him. Saved me the taxi money. That was the other day in Switzerland. I always appreciate gestures like that."
Among his previous roles, Murray was managing director of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing's Hutchison Whampoa and serves on boards including Richemont and Essar Energy. He holds the record for the oldest man to walk unsupported to the South Pole, which he completed in 2004 aged 63.
Murray said he would seek to make his mark on the board, should he get the job, given the greater scrutiny on corporate governance from shareholders and investors, particularly on huge bonuses paid to financial executives.
"It's absolutely critical that the board understands what its role is. In today's markets we are permanently under the microscope, and we have to make sure we covered and ticked all the boxes," he added.