March 16, 2012 / 5:05 PM / 5 years ago

Chile miner Antofagasta seeks hands-on CEO

3 Min Read

* Antofagasta looking for new head in Chile and abroad

* Chilean miner to focus on tackling production issues

* Veteran CEO Awad resigned earlier this month

By Alexandra Ulmer

SANTIAGO, March 16 (Reuters) - Chilean miner Antofagasta, grappling with delays, rising costs and a frustrated project in Pakistan, is looking for a technical, hands-on CEO to replace veteran boss Marcelo Awad, whose background was in sales.

Antofagasta is still controlled by the family of former Chairman Andronico Luksic, who was well-known for driving around Chile's Atacama desert digging for copper veins in the hopes of uncovering a bountiful deposit.

The company, which cut its dividend this week, wants another mining-savvy leader to help it sharpen its focus on Chile's massive copper mines. It is looking at home and abroad for an executive who knows how to get minerals out of the ground.

Antofagasta produced 640,500 tonnes of copper in 2011, up from the previous year but less than it had hoped for.

"We are now positioning ourselves for a fairly significant growth phase," Hussein Barma, Antofagasta's UK CFO told reporters on Thursday.

The London-listed company faces mining challenges at its flagship Esperanza mine, international arbitration over its Reko Diq mine in Pakistan and is gearing up for the launch of construction at the Antucoya project later this year.

"We'll seek a chief executive with a lot of mining experience and who has gone through all the steps of mining, with emphasis on operations," Chairman and interim CEO Jean-Paul Luksic told Chilean newspaper La Segunda this week.

"We'll be looking within Chile as well as abroad. I don't have a name in my head yet," added Luksic, whose influential family controls the company.

He said missed production targets pushed the company to take the "relevant" decisions, including Awad's exit.

Awad, who was chief executive for eight of his 16 years at the company after working in the sales division, resigned last week.

Some analysts say Lumina Copper's CEO Nelson Pizarro, a former mining executive at Antofagasta's Los Pelambres mine, and state copper giant Codelco CEO Diego Hernandez both fit the operations-focused profiles sought. Many also see a non-Chilean candidate as likely.

"I assume Antofagasta recruits a hands-on engineer type," said John Tumazos, analyst with Very Independent Research.

Antofagasta cut back on dividends on Tuesday, citing capital expenditure plans to drive future growth -- set to hit $1 billion in 2012 with an additional $300 million for exploration and evaluation of new projects -- and with Antucoya costs, the bulk of the main spend, set to rise.

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