Rio Tinto in hunt for new chairman as Jan du Plessis moves to chair BT Group

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Rio Tinto has launched the search for a new chairman after Jan du Plessis confirmed plans to step down.

The Anglo-Australian mining group said on Thursday that it expected to appoint a successor by the end of the year and that Mr du Plessis would retire as chairman no later than its 2018 annual shareholder meeting in Australia. This is usually held in April.

The news came as Mr du Plessis was named as the next chairman of BT Group.

In a statement Mr du Plessis said: “When we announced the appointment of jean-Sébastien Jacques as chief executive a year ago, I committed to the board to serve as chairman for another two years, as part of a planned leadership transition. Today’s announcement is the next step in that plan. I remain committed to leading the board until I stand down, supporting the management team and ensuring an orderly handover to my successor.”

“It has been a great privilege to chair Rio Tinto over the past eight years, during which time I have worked with some outstanding people across the business. The company has withstood the challenges of a cyclical industry and performed well. We have a robust balance sheet and a strong management team, led by an impressive chief executive.”

The South African-born City of London grandee has a mixed record at Rio. Under his chairmanship the company made a disastrous coal acquisition in Mozambique that led to the departure of its then chief executive Tom Albanese.

The company now finds itself under investigation by law enforcement agencies in the US, UK and Australia because of payments made to a French consultant who helped the miner retain its rights to a giant iron ore deposit.

But Rio’s financial performance has significantly improved during Mr du Plessis’s eight-year stint as chairman and debts have fallen sharply.

Chairman since 2009, Mr du Plessis helped the steer the FTSE 100 miner as it scrambled to pay down $39bn of debt that it used to fund the takeover of Alcan.

In 2009, he scrapped a controversial deal with China’s Chinalco and launched a $15bn rights issue to repair Rio’s balance sheet. Then in 2014, Mr du Plessis rebuffed a takeover approach from Ivan Glasenberg, the South African who runs Glencore.

In recent months, Mr du Plessis had taken charge of the Guinea payments investigations.

His departure from Rio means three of the biggest mining companies listed in London are looking for a new chairman. Sir John Parker recently announced plans to step down as chairman of Anglo American, while Jac Nasser is set to leave BHP Billiton later this year.

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