* Analysts call deal transformative
* Farmer's son turned accountant, then mineral titan
By Michael Erman
NEW YORK, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc Chief Executive Richard Adkerson is known for taking big risks - building his company around mines in Asia, spending nearly $26 billion to take over larger mining rival Phelps Dodge and now shelling out $9 billion to take over two oil and gas companies.
The copper and gold miner said on Wednesday it would buy Plains Exploration & Production Co and McMoRan Exploration Co, moving back into the energy sector after more than 20 years. The company is taking on $20 billion in debt as a result of the deals.
"This is his second transformative deal in recent memory," said Dan Rohr, a Morningstar analyst who follows the company.
Yet while Rohr said the Phelps Dodge deal was savvy, he added that some people might take a different view.
"This deal is a different matter entirely, really taking Freeport outside of its core business," he said. "That's going to be a disappointment to a lot of investment, a lot of which will view this as a breach of trust."
Adkerson, a consummate dealmaker who built Freeport into the world's largest listed copper company, has been tantalized by the relatively low cost of financing in recent years and what he views as a long-term global bull market for commodities.
But he has been frustrated by the lack of acquisition opportunities where Freeport already operates.
"We're on the call list of every investment banker or company that has a deal or opportunities to present to us and we look at them all, and we will ... continue to look at them all. And I will tell you we believe this is a better opportunity for shareholders," Adkerson said on a conference call.
Adkerson, 65, was named chief executive of Freeport in 2003 after joining the company in 1989. Even before that he was connected to Freeport as an outside accountant.
A self-effacing man who grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, and played high school football with Elvis Presley's cousin, Adkerson received an MBA degree in 1970 from Mississippi State University and in 1988, completed the Advanced Management Program of the Harvard Business School.
His parents grew up on farms in west Tennessee and his father wound up managing department stores in small Southern towns.
He served as an accounting fellow at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, where he led the development of accounting and disclosure standards for the oil and gas industry in the late 1970s.
He then became a leading partner in Arthur Andersen & Co, where he headed its global oil and gas practice before joining Freeport in 1989.
He and his wife, Nancy, have three sons.