By Clara Ferreira-Marques
LONDON Jan 8 An Australian former coal miner,
Anglo American's newly appointed chief executive is a
far cry from the patrician Oppenheimer family who founded one of
the world's largest mining groups almost a century ago.
Mark Cutifani, colleagues say, eats lunch in the staff
canteen with the rank-and-file. When he arrived at his current
job running AngloGold Ashanti, the world's
third-largest gold mining group, he took the doors off the
"It was incredibly refreshing," said one former colleague.
"He is an everyman - certainly not aloof."
Anglo has never been led by an executive with hands-on
mining experience. It has tended to pick its leaders internally,
typically Oxford graduates who were assistants to the
Oppenheimers before rising to the top. Outgoing New Jersey-born
boss Cynthia Carroll, appointed in 2007, was the first outsider.
"It gives him moral authority, gravitas, and that's a
necessary component of this job. Arguably, Cynthia didn't have
that," said analyst Paul Gait at Sanford Bernstein.
"This is very early days, we'll see how it all goes, but
it's good news for the moment. A couple of caveats around the
strategy of the group and what they are actually going to do,
but if they are going to deliver on operational change, Mark has
as good credentials as any," Gait said.
Cutifani - plucked on Tuesday from AngloGold to run Anglo -
will need his common touch as he tackles challenges ahead
including an overhaul of the group's South Africa-focused
platinum arm, squeezed by activist unions in a country where one
in four is unemployed.
But Cutifani will also need charisma and his three decades
of mining experience as he tries to push strategy changes
through a board led by outspoken heavyweight John Parker.
The new man will have to turn around a lagging share price,
poor investor returns, and operating troubles in Brazil and
Chile, as well as South Africa.
"It's a challenging job, probably the most difficult in the
mining industry right now," analyst Des Kilalea at RBC Capital
Markets said. "He comes with a good reputation."
Cutifani, 54, had a blue-collar upbringing in an industrial
seaside town south of Sydney, the son of an Italian immigrant
father and a mother of Irish extraction. He credits a
multi-lingual family with teaching him to listen.
As an engineering student, Cutifani worked in a local
colliery. He went on to work for a number of Australian mining
companies and then Canadian nickel group Inco, where he was
chief operating officer before a takeover by Brazil's Vale
In 2007, he joined AngloGold Ashanti, which was created from
Anglo's gold assets but is now a separate company.
He has faced falling production, but improved profitability,
cut debt, and made a radical $6 billion investment to unwind the
group's loss-making position in gold futures, one of the largest
hedge books in the industry.
Without that decision, which ended what was a popular
practice in the 1990s, high gold prices could have left the
group on the verge of collapse.
"It was a ballsy decision," the former colleague said. "We
didn't have cash to spare."
As head of AngloGold, he also tackled increased
mechanisation and operated some of the most toughest mines in
the sector. AngloGold owns Mponeng, the deepest gold mine in the
A relative unknown in South Africa on arrival, Cutifani has
become one of the country's most prominent mining executives,
building ties with government and unions - vital in a country
where mining still represents about 10 percent of the economy.
According to AngloGold, Cutifani was the only mining chief
executive to attend the mass memorial for striking mine workers
shot during the wave of unrest that battered the South African
industry last year.
Unions on Tuesday criticised Anglo's failure to appoint a
black South African or a woman, but the government is said to
have backed the appointment.
The South African government-owned Public Investment
Corporation - the second-largest investor in Anglo, which had
criticised Carroll - said it "commended" the board.
Cutifani, a sports fan who once said his life philosophy was
"no regrets", has seven children from two marriages.