Business Maverick


Anglo American appoints Duncan Wanblad as new CEO and, mirabile, he is South African

Anglo American appoints Duncan Wanblad as new CEO and, mirabile, he is South African
Anglo American CEO Duncan Wanblad. (Photo: Supplied)

Anglo American has appointed insider Duncan Wanblad as its new CEO. He becomes the first South African to run the company that’s been ingrained in South Africa’s history for 15 years.

Duncan Wanblad takes over as Anglo American CEO from Australian Mark Cutifani, who has run Anglo for just under a decade, rescuing the London-listed company from a near-death experience and turning it into a solid growth business that can hold its head up among its largely Australian peers. 

Anglo’s chairperson, Stuart Chambers, hailed Wanblad as the outstanding candidate, and said it was “distinctly advantageous” that he was not only South African, but had spent a large part of his career in the local mining industry. SA was important to the company’s future investment plans, he said. 

Wanblad has been “in and around southern Africa and SA” for more than half his career, Chambers said. Wanblad was appointed group director for strategy and business development at Anglo in 2016, and was CEO of its base metals business from 2013 to 2019. He is also a non-executive director of De Beers and Kumba Iron Ore, and chairs the Anglo American Foundation. 

Wanblad beat some hefty competition for the post, notably chief finance officer Stephen Pearce and Bruce Cleaver, CEO of diamond miner De Beers, both well regarded and blisteringly smart executives. Also in the frame, though probably not a candidate, was Anglo’s highly rated chief technology officer Tony O’Neill.

Consequently, many of the questions on the announcement conference call revolved around whether this team will hold together, but Wanblad said he had “really good conversations” with his colleagues over the past 24 hours and it was generally agreed that “contemporaneous change” would be unhelpful. 

Wanblad’s appointment follows new appointments at three of the other megaminers: BHP, Rio Tinto and Glencore. 

Wanblad made a point of emphasising environmental issues, saying: “I have never lost sight of what it takes to produce the metals and minerals that are ever more vital to support our life on this planet.”

Wanblad has large shoes to fill. After two CEOs whose terms were heavily criticised, there was palpable scepticism following the appointment of Australian outsider Cutifani, although he was CEO of another company with SA roots, AngloGold Ashanti, at the time. 

Chambers joked about this irony, saying that on a recent call with Cyril Ramaphosa, SA’s president said it was amazing how in tune Cutifani was with local politics, “particularly since he comes from a different planet”. 

Cutifani’s term, which began in 2013, was made enormously challenging following the commodity price collapse in 2015, which prompted a huge shake-up of the organisation and a big reduction in operations. 

Yet, Cutifani, ever affable and purposeful, rode out this challenge – only to be faced by a quasi-buyout attempt by Indian miner and industrialist Anil Agarwal in 2017. In the meantime, SA’s mining context and dispensation was becoming increasingly demanding, with costs rising and political pressure more challenging. 

Cutifani rode out these challenges too, and Chambers was fulsome in his praise for the CEO he appointed almost a decade ago. “He has led his executive team with distinction through thick and thin to transform Anglo American’s performance and prospects, helping build a culture of self-belief and resilience.

“Mark’s legacy in the areas of safety, the power of engagement and his vision for a very different and sustainable future for mining enabled through technology, deserve particular recognition.

“The Board is enormously grateful to Mark for his unerring commitment and all that he has achieved.” BM/DM

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