Newsmaker: Ivan Glasenberg's long walk to Glencore gold

LONDON Thu Apr 14, 2011 9:40am EDT

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

The decision of Glencore International AG to end years of secrecy with an initial public offering (IPO) puts the publicity-shy 54-year-old fully in the limelight.

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

He recognizes 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.

While a new chairman may be able to share some of the burden of being the public face of the group once it confronts the scrutiny of new investors, the glare of publicity will still be a challenge for Glasenberg.

"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 of a century, helping to build Glencore into one of the world's biggest private firms.

After earning an MBA at the University of Southern California in 1983, 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.

WORK ETHIC

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 key in molding a tightly knit firm that reminds some outsiders of Goldman Sachs before it went public.

Ivan is very central to the culture," says a second person who has worked closely with senior Glencore officials, adding that as with Goldman, that ethos involves "real allegiance to the organization 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 is a hands-on manager, keen to know every detail about the company's operations. "Ivan travels around all the time keeping an eye on what they're doing. He demands a personal rundown of exactly what's going on. He'll come and check up on you," said a third source who has interacted with Glencore officials.

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 and Sophie Walker)

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