Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh to retire, copper and coal chief to lead company

Rio Tinto’s chief executive Sam Walsh, who led the firm through a painful commodity price plunge, is to retire and be replaced by Frenchman Jean-Sebastien Jacques in July, the mining giant said Thursday.

Walsh, who has helmed the Anglo-Australian firm for just over three years and overseen a cost-cutting drive as the mining sector battles through tough times, will also depart Rio’s board at the same time.

London-based Jacques, who is currently global head of the firm’s copper and coal division, will become deputy chief executive in the interim and joins the board “with immediate effect”, the world’s number-two miner said.

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of a comprehensive and deliberate executive succession process,” Rio Tinto chairman Jan du Plessis said in a statement after the market closed in Sydney.

“The board has decided that J-S is the right person to lead Rio Tinto in an increasingly complex world filled with both challenges and opportunities for our industry.”

The changeover at the top came as Rio — which is heavily reliant on iron ore — posted an annual net loss of US$866 million in 2015 due to tumbling commodity prices, which have squeezed the bottom lines of small and big players alike.

Rio has been tightening its belt to combat the commodities crash, and last month announced a further slashing of costs by US$1.0 billion this year and another US$1.0 billion in 2017. It also slashed capital spending.

“It probably is a bit of a surprise to the market, but it wasn’t unexpected,” Fat Prophets resources analyst David Lennox told AFP.

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