* Keller, board had differences of vision and style
* Move follows change in Chile government, Codelco board
* Interim CEO to be named on June 13
(Adds political context, comment, Codelco statement)
By Alexandra Ulmer
SANTIAGO, June 6 Chilean state-run copper miner
Codelco said it was removing Chief Executive Officer Thomas
Keller to seek new leadership at a pivotal time for the company,
with observers seeing a shift in style likely rather than major
Keller, a former retail executive, earned plaudits for his
efforts to overhaul old mines and cut costs at the world's No. 1
copper producer, but his tough stance toward labor activism
triggered tensions with Codelco's powerful unions and
the country's new center-left government.
The board, recently reshuffled by President Michelle
Bachelet, voted 5-3, with one abstention, to remove Keller, who
was named CEO in 2012 during the conservative administration of
"We asked Thomas Keller to tender his resignation as CEO as
a result of the company's move towards a new phase with new
challenges that require new leadership," board head Oscar
Landerretche told journalists after a more than five-hour
meeting that ended Friday morning.
Keller will remain in place until June 13, when an interim
CEO will be named, Codelco said in a statement, adding that it
would form a committee to select a replacement.
Although the board stressed that Keller's removal was not
politically motivated, Codelco's CEO has traditionally changed
in tandem with new governments.
Keller's replacement is likely to have an approach that is
closer to the more inclusive, union-friendly stance of Bachelet,
whose term began in March.
However, the fundamentals of Codelco's massive $30 billion
investment plan will almost certainly remain intact, experts
said. The new CEO's challenges include a financing shortfall,
tired mines with falling ore grades, and a sliding copper price
"I don't see a change of direction," said Gustavo Lagos,
mining professor at the Universidad Catolica. "It won't become
politicized. ... Whoever takes over will have exactly the same
NO OBVIOUS CANDIDATE
There is no obvious candidate to become CEO. Local media and
industry analysts have floated the names of Nelson Pizarro, a
respected industry veteran on Antofagasta's board who also runs
the new Caserones mine project; former Codelco executive Sergio
Jarpa, who has good relations with mining unions; and current
Codelco executive Juan Medel.
Codelco hopes to name a CEO within months and will probably
accept applications, said Landerretche, an economist and key
architect of Bachelet's tax reform plan.
Keller, who had said he had different views from the board
on how to run the company, ruffled some feathers
with a sometimes brash personal style.
At the heart of the policy clash is how to navigate massive
overhauls of Codelco's old mines, especially century-old
Chuquicamata, since the changes include laying off workers and
curtailing their benefits.
Some in the industry say the success of Codelco's ambitious
investment plan hinges on fostering harmonious relations with
unions, while others say a bloated workforce is a hindrance.
Differences with the board were also the reason behind the
resignation of Keller's predecessor, Diego Hernandez, who is now
the CEO of Antofagasta Minerals.
(Additional reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Lisa Von
Ahn and Leslie Adler)