BHP BILLITON director Lindsay Maxsted has indicated the resources giant will consider applicants from outside the mining sector in the search for its next chief executive.
While BHP conducts ''continuous succession planning'', the process appears to have stepped up a notch in recent times after incumbent Marius Kloppers completed his fifth year in the job in October.
Speaking in Melbourne, Mr Maxsted told reporters that by considering candidates from outside the mining sector, BHP was able to broaden a narrow field.
Mr Maxsted said good boards were thinking about succession within one year of appointing a chief executive, initially as a safeguard against an unexpected loss of an executive.
''Even if the CEO has only been there for a year I think good boards have a view on if something happened unpredictably and you had to replace quickly how would you do it, even with an acting CEO,'' he said.
''Through years two, three, four, five, six and whatever, then good boards have development programs in place.
''The closer you get towards the end of the term then that's the time to have external advisers helping you in terms of what is out there in the marketplace and that could be two years, 18 months out, whatever.''
BHP has long had links to headhunting firm Heidrick and Struggles and reportedly asked the firm to help it scour the field for possible candidates to replace Mr Kloppers.
The top brass at BHP are known to be frustrated by the recent coverage of Mr Kloppers' tenure, and Mr Maxsted conceded that succession was best handled in private.
''The extent to which you can do that in-house and not in the public arena, that is to everyone's advantage and particularly the shareholders' advantage as well as all the employees that you have inside,'' he said.