By Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE, Aug 30 BHP Billiton's (BHP.AX)
chief, Marius Kloppers, made a splash with an aggressive bid
for Potash Corp (POT.TO), but behind the scenes the war room is
being led by the miner's top deal maker, Alberto Calderon.
The Colombian steered BHP's bid for rival Rio Tinto
(RIO.AX) (RIO.L), a $147 billion deal ditched after 12 months
of wrangling when the global financial crisis and economic
slump hit in 2008.
With a PhD in economics from Yale and a law degree, the
50-year-old is described as a big-picture thinker, different
from all the mining engineers around the table. In his
globe-trotting on the job, he gets to know the countries he
visits by reading novels by local authors.
Ex-BHP chairman Don Argus once quipped of his intellect:"It
makes my head hurt just hearing him talk," said a source who
knows them both.
During the Rio bid, Calderon lamented about having no time
to exercise and made up for it by speed-walking to work
everyday. He is so dapper, he refused to wear sneakers, and
complained about slipping on London's wet sidewalks in his
Italian leather shoes.
This year, he moved with his wife and two school-aged
children to Melbourne, where the family is now trying to pick
the right Australian Rules Football team to back in a
Calderon and his team timed the pounce on Potash Corp
(POT.N) cleverly, as they did with Rio Tinto in 2007, after it
had bought Alcan and was saddled with debt.
This time, BHP has swooped in on Potash Corp just as it was
coming off a nine-month low share price with the industry
facing an uncertain recovery in potash prices, and with
potential rival bidders, like Rio Tinto, unable to come to
Potash Corp's rescue.
Brazilian politics even came into the calculation, as
Brazil's Vale (VALE5.SA), which is building a fertiliser
business, is being held back by pressure to invest at home.
"He is clearly an excellent strategic thinker," said an
investor who has met Calderon.
If Calderon's strategy in the Rio Tinto deal is anything to
go by, expect his bid team to sit tight for the next few
months. BHP raised its bid for Rio three months after Rio's CEO
rejected it as "two ballparks away" from fair value. And then
didn't budge for 9 months, and failed to get Rio to the table
before walking away.
For a summary of BHP/Potash stories: [ID:nN22340110]
StarMine comparative data:
StarMine data on top miners:
BHP-Potash deal calculator: r.reuters.com/ruv65n
GROOMED FOR THE TOP
BHP hired Calderon from Colombia, where he headed the
country's largest private coal exporter, Cerrejon Coal Company,
a BHP joint venture with Anglo American Plc (AAL.L) and
Under Calderon, Cerrejon boosted production by nearly 40
percent and revenue rose to $1.3 billion.
He has held a range of top jobs in Colombian state-owned
companies, including oil company Ecopetrol, served in
government ministries, worked as an investment banker and at
the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. He is one
of a handful of executives being groomed for the top job at
Calderon joined the company as president of diamonds and
specialty products in 2006 and was promoted to his current role
about a year later, filling now-CEO Marius Kloppers' old job.
"He's quite reserved," said another investor, contrasting
Calderon with the other Latin American in BHP's top ranks, the
effusive Chief Financial Officer Alex Vanselow.
The key question is whether he can execute on the Potash
Corp bid, after failing with the Rio Tinto takeover.
With BHP's other major deal, a $116 billion iron ore joint
venture with Rio Tinto, bogged down in a regulatory mire
despite BHP's confidence a year ago that it had all competition
concerns covered, there is even more pressure to seal the
People interviewed for this profile declined to named, as
they deal frequently with BHP.
(Editing by Ed Davies and Valerie Lee)