Taking the reins ... Andrew Mackenzie will take over as chief executive of BHP from Marius Kloppers. Photo: Supplied
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Andrew Mackenzie had a head-start on some rivals in the race to become BHP Billiton's next chief executive, simply by being an existing member of staff at the global resources giant.
Speaking to London media and investors overnight, BHP chairman Jac Nasser reinforced perceptions that the main candidates to replace Marius Kloppers had been working within the company for several years, despite BHP's decision to consider external candidates.
"Our preference is always to go internal in the circumstances we are in, I think you go external if you are looking for a complete change of strategy or you have a company in trouble or you are not confident with the bench-strength you have," he said.
"Going external meant you would have to find a clear winner ... Conventional wisdom says it needs to be 30 per cent or 50 per cent better than the internal candidates."
Some top BHP executives were known to be frustrated that BHP conducted an external search, given the levels of talent inside the business.
Mr Nasser indicated that under his leadership BHP would continue to benchmark and consider external candidates, despite the fact that internal candidates would always have a significant advantage in succession planning.
"We narrowed the field down to about a handful of people ... there are good people out there but none of them met the criteria we were looking for and its fair to say we had several alternatives within the company," he said.
Among Mr Mackenzie's main internal rivals were ferrous and coal boss Marcus Randolph, and nickel and aluminium boss Alberto Calderon, while there has also been speculation that Dow Chemical boss Andrew Liveris was considered from outside BHP's ranks.
Some people close to the transition have suggested that Mr Randolph in particular may depart from the company sometime during 2013 after missing out on the top job
While Mr Kloppers' resignation follows similar changes at the top of other global mining houses, BHP was keen to distance its leadership change from those that have taken place at Anglo American, Rio Tinto and Barrick Gold over the past 8 months, suggesting its process was more orderly, controlled, considered and planned.
The investment community in the northern hemisphere tended to agree yesterday, with RBC Capital Markets analyst Des Kilalea saying that Mr Kloppers was not driven out of the company on the back of poor performance.
"It is worth noting that unlike some of its peers, the change in management is not, we believe, driven by disappointing returns since BHP has outperformed the peer group (in total shareholder returns) under Kloppers," he said.
Speaking from Paris, HSBC analyst Andrew Keen said the difference was most stark when compared to Anglo's recent appointment of Australian Mark Cutifani, and the operations of Xstrata, which recently merged with Glencore.
"Rio and BHP have both done a very good job at developing internal candidates, particularly when you look at the fact Anglo is now on its second external hiring for chief executive," he said.
"With Xstrata I don't think they ever contemplated that organisation without Mick (Davis) running it."
BHP's London listed shares lost more than 2 per cent of their value on the back of the news, almost double the damage done to the company's Australian listed shares.