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And then there were none. The resignation-cum-sacking of Rio Tinto’s Tom Albanese means the four largest London-listed miners have all replaced their chief executives, or announced plans to do so. Like the 10 native Americans of the old rhyme, their fates have been diverse and salutary. That of Mr Albanese, surgically removed by chairman Jan du Plessis, shows lessons were learnt from the messier excision of Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American. Other bosses aspiring to be steel fists in velvet gloves, take note.
It took a whispering campaign by shareholders lasting months to push Sir John Parker, chairman of South Africa-focused Anglo, to remove Ms Carroll after she fumbled a Chilean mine ownership deal. The appointment of successor Mark Cutifani was played out in public.
So Mr du Plessis moved fast to replace Mr Albanese after he learnt the self-confessed “mining nerd” had prompted the company to pay $3bn too much for coal assets in Mozambique. A huge writedown of aluminium mattered less, because Rio was on track to buy Alcan when Mr Albanese became chief executive in 2007.
Having engineered a decisive dismissignation, Mr du Plessis will “receive the benefit of the doubt from investors”, says one of the largest. However, shareholders will still hanker after the fresh perspective a vigorous young external recruit could bring. Instead, they’re getting Sam Walsh, 63, who has worked at Rio for 20 years and whose hobby is collecting milk jugs. He promises to “work flat out”. He’ll need to.
Fred Smith, maverick British cousin of ex-Goldm an “whistleblower” Greg Smith, has p enned a riposte to demands from Barclays’ boss Antony Jenkins for staff to shape up ethically or ship out*.
“Today is my last at Barclays. After 12 years at the bank I can honestly say the environment has become more toxically moral than I could ever have imagined.
“Our culture – as epitomised in the old trader’s sign-off ‘you’re wearing it, shag’ - had been the secret sauce that made Barclays great. If manipulating Libor rates or selling dodgy insurance was what it took to boost the bonus pool, we’d do it.
“The self-interested example set by Bob Diamond was unequivocal. Why resign for your own failings when someone else could carry the can?
“But under AJ, the bank’s resurgent Quaker ethics have become a serious threat to short-term profits. The bull market mood music is pounding louder than a track by the Swedish House Mafia. Barclays should be dancing like a teenage car thief on miaow-miaow, pumping and dumping client positions to boost its prop desk P&L. Some hope!
“I’m quitting for a job promoting London IPOs by shady Asian natural resources companies. You don’t get any Goody Twoshoes in that line of work.”
*As imagined by Lombard
Retail failures are creating opportunities for distressed business specialists such as Henry Jackson, whose company OpCapita is mulling the purchase of some HMV stores. The aim could be to bolster the Game computer game store chain, bought by OpCapita last year.
Mr Jackson is evidently undeterred from making new acquisitions by public criticism following the collapse of Comet, another OpCapita business, in December. Accounts from the administrators suggested Hailey, an investment vehicle advised by OpCapita, could have lost £35m. If so, characterisation of Mr Jackson as a beneficiary of others’ woes was harsh.
However, Hailey still owns Comet’s warranties business, described as “a very sweet asset” by one corporate finance adviser and Lombard reader. According to filings, Triptych, a Curacao-registered captive insurer, retains cash in an escrow account to cover liabilities. If run-off costs are light, Hailey could do very nicely. The amount in escrow is not disclosed. But the Comet group had total cash of €96m when owner Darty agreed to sell.
Sir Simon Robertson and Simon Robey have overcome their natural modesty to approve a press release about their new corporate finance boutique. This devotes four times as much space to their glittering careers as to the services they will offer.
We learn, for example, that Rolls-Royce chairman Sir Simon is also an “Officier” of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a trustee of the Royal Opera House and an honorary fellow of Eton College. Mr Robey has advised on “over $1tn” of deals.
One hopes they can find clients illustrious enough to merit their attention.
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