BHP Billiton said it is looking inside and outside the company as well as using external advisers to help with succession plans for its chief executive, following reports the world's biggest miner was preparing for changes at the top.
Chairman Jac Nasser told BHP's Australian annual general meeting on Thursday that planning for a successor to CEO Marius Kloppers started the day he came in, and was ongoing.
Kloppers oversaw phenomenal growth in the last decade's final boom years, and, despite failing to complete three major deals, won plaudits from investors for cost-cutting and maintaining shareholder payouts.
But BHP faces a sharp drop in profits as it battles a tougher environment after a slowdown in top customer China has knocked commodities prices.
"If he is replaced, I only hope they choose someone from inside and not someone that parachutes in, because we need a CEO that understands the company," said Ian Mancovitch, a BHP shareholder attending the meeting, adding, "Sure, Marius Kloppers is yesterday's man, but that doesn't mean he isn't needed anymore, he proved it in the global financial crisis."
Internally, four candidates are seen as frontrunners for the job: petroleum division chief Mike Yeager, aluminium and nickel chief Alberto Calderon, nonferrous chief Andrew Mackenzie and iron ore head Marcus Randolph.
Nasser praised Kloppers for his leadership during the financial crisis. "This sort of performance doesn't happen by accident," Nasser said. "It is a credit to every one of our 100,000 people led by Marius and his team," he added.
BHP has not said when it expected the 50-year-old South African to leave, but identified succession planning for all senior executives as top priority following a report that search for a replacement had begun.