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Anglo-BHP battle is between two CEOs fighting over same vision

As Anglo American sets out a survival plan that echoes the vision of its suitor, BHP Group, the rival mining bosses are now locked in a battle to convince shareholders they are the man for the job.

Anglo CEO Duncan Wanblad and his BHP counterpart Mike Henry took centre stage on Tuesday as the personalities behind two of the world’s biggest miners came to the fore. Wanblad presented his own radical turnaround plan to investors before Henry made his first public remarks on BHP’s bid at a conference in Miami.

“We don’t need BHP to deliver this strategy; we absolutely do not need them at all,” Wanblad said in an interview on Tuesday. “We can deliver this.”

BHP wants Anglo to spin off its two listed South African businesses producing iron ore and platinum before the world’s biggest miner acquires the rest of its assets. Anglo would also separate its Anglo American Platinum unit while exiting diamond mining and selling its coal business. Both CEOs see copper as the crown jewel.

Hours after Wanblad made his pitch, BHP’s Henry told the same conference that Anglo’s shareholders must choose between the two management teams.

“Shareholders must decide which plan creates the greatest value, soonest,” Henry said.

“Which team has the better track record of execution.”

Henry, who has been at the helm of BHP since 2020, has had time to stamp his image on the company. In a series of sweeping reforms, he implemented the biggest shakeup at the company since its creation two decades earlier.

But he also inherited a stronger company than Wanblad. In Australia, BHP has some of the most profitable iron ore operations and it also runs the world’s biggest copper mine. It has no exposure to commodities such as platinum and diamonds, which have caused Anglo problems as prices slumped.

Still, there have also been missteps by Henry, such as betting on nickel before the market collapsed and wading into a South African election campaign when his approach for Anglo became public.

Wanblad by contrast has faced a tougher start. While the company he inherited was riding high, buoyed by soaring commodity prices, some of Anglo’s key markets quickly soured, exposing flaws in some underlying businesses. That ultimately led Wanblad to launch the root-and-branch review of the business.

Both Henry and Wanblad have been at their respective companies for decades, working their way up to the top job.

Canadian Henry is described by those who work with him as incredibly detail-driven, making decisions based on cold logic and hard facts.

South African Wanblad, like his counterpart at BHP, is described by employees as deeply analytical but with a reputation for being more personable.

The two disagreed on their respective plans for South Africa, which is turning into a key battleground.

Henry said Anglo’s own plan to spin off its Amplats platinum business is “a pretty clear indicator that it is doable”.

The “key difference” between the two proposals is that BHP’s plan involves securing simultaneous regulatory approval in South Africa for a pair of demergers and the top-level transaction, Anglo’s Wanblad said in an interview.

Such an “unprecedented” undertaking would be “all potentially at the expense of Anglo shareholders,” he said.

Wanblad, who like Henry is meeting investors in Miami this week, will hope those shareholders back his vision.

“I don’t believe at all that BHP has a better management team than Anglo,” he said. “Our plan will make the company much stronger than we are today, especially at the bottom of cycles.”

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.