Vedanta selects former Rio boss Albanese as CEO

Fri Mar 7, 2014 2:25am IST

New Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh poses for photographs at a Rio Tinto office in London January 17, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hall/Files

New Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh poses for photographs at a Rio Tinto office in London January 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Neil Hall/Files

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REUTERS - Tom Albanese has been unveiled as the next chief executive of Vedanta Resources Plc (VED.L), restored to the helm of a global mining giant more than a year after being ousted as head of Rio Tinto Plc.

The appointment of Albanese, an American, is the latest step by London-listed Vedanta to stretch beyond its Indian roots and match the long-held ambitions of its owner to compete with the likes of Rio and BHP Billiton.

Vedanta's stock rose as much as 6 percent to become one of the top percentage gainers on the FTSE-250 Midcap Index.

"Vedanta has been perceived by the market as an Indian-centric company," Citi Research analyst Jatinder Goel wrote in a note. "The appointment of Albanese, in our view, should help to globalise the business and remove this perception."

Vedanta, controlled by one-time scrap metal dealer Anil Agarwal, was one of three miners to drop out of the FTSE-100 index last year. Its stock has lost more than a quarter of its value in the last 12 months.

Albanese, who is 56, said on Thursday he would focus on ensuring that those businesses acquired by Vedanta over the past 15 years were operating at "maximum potential".

Speaking to Reuters after his appointment, he hinted there would be no repeat of the spending spree that ultimately led to his departure from Rio Tinto after nearly six years in the job.

Agarwal, he said, would focus on mergers and acquisitions.

"I'll focus on ensuring that the best of the businesses that we have are being delivered to full and true potential," he said in an interview.

Albanese was one of several top mining executives to shoulder the blame for the relentless pursuit of growth during the boom years that ended in 2011, when acquisitions soured and turned into billions of dollars of writedowns.

He left Rio Tinto in January 2013 after the company revealed a $14 billion writedown almost entirely on the value of his two most significant buys: Alcan and Mozambican coal company Riversdale.

Rio Tinto bought Alcan for $38 billion in 2007, a bruising, top-of-the-market deal made when the company was under pressure from rivals to bulk up or be bought.

"After the problems related to some of the acquisitions he was involved with, I think he is more likely to be more cautious rather than going out and buying everything in sight," said Tom Gidley-Kitchin, an analyst with brokerage Charles Stanley.

"The interesting thing to see will be to what extent he (Albanese) is running the company, and to what extent Agarwal is running it."

'TREMENDOUS POTENTIAL'

Albanese grew up in New Jersey and was trained in Alaska, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in mineral economics and a master's degree in mining engineering. He has been working in the mining business since the 1970s.

He first joined Vedanta last September, in a senior advisory role. He will replace Mahendra Singh Mehta as chief executive on April 1.

Credit Suisse analysts said Albanese's appointment would increase investor confidence in corporate governance at Vedanta.

The company has sometimes been a difficult sell to overseas investors, put off by its previously complicated group structure and a board that has had limited international representation.

Albanese said Vedanta's board would work toward reducing the company's debt and simplifying the group's corporate structure.

And while the company has global ambitions - it already mines copper in Zambia, zinc in Namibia and iron ore in Ireland, among other operations - Albanese said he expects "tremendous" energy and mineral demand in India in the next five to 10 years.

"Per capita Indian consumption of most of the things we produce would be almost a tenth of what it would be in China," he said. "I think Vedanta is very well-positioned to capitalise on that."

Vedanta also said it would recommend Albanese be appointed chief executive of Sesa Sterlite Ltd (SESA.NS), the subsidiary that groups most of the company's mines and smelters in India.

Vedanta's shares were up 4.6 percent at 897 pence at 1505 GMT on the London Stock Exchange.

(Editing by Robin Paxton)

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