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AAP

2012-11-07

BHP Billiton has confirmed that the global mining giant is preparing for the departure of chief executive Marius Kloppers by preparing a succession plan.

But the company would not comment on a specific report from London's Financial Times that stated BHP chairman Jac Nasser was leading the process to replace Mr Kloppers.

BHP said only that it had always had a continual succession process for its senior executives.

South African-born Mr Kloppers, 50, achieved an Australian corporate record net profit of above $22 billion in fiscal 2011 on the back of the mining boom.

However profit dived by 35 per cent this year as he faced criticism over his five-year tenure.

The Corporate Confidence Index - a survey of institutional investor sentiment towards listed companies, conducted by Ross Carmichael Singer - in July showed that investor ratings of Mr Kloppers had steadily declined.

In August, BHP wrote down the value of its US shale assets by nearly $3 billion, in the same year it acquired them for more than $20 billion.

Mr Nasser publicly backed Mr Kloppers on the day of the shale writedowns, saying the company was "fortunate to have Marius's leadership".

A BHP spokeswoman said succession planning was a critical task and the board had always ensured it had a well-integrated, continual succession process in place for its most senior executives.

"This well-established planning process has worked effectively for many years and delivered a track record of smooth succession at the Group Management Committee level," she said in a statement.

Other events under Mr Kloppers' watch that have attracted criticism include the failed acquisitions of Rio Tinto and PotashCorp and shelving of planned expansions such as Olympic Dam in South Australia.

In addition, major shareholders such as BlackRock have called for greater capital returns.

Pengana Capital fund manager Tim Schroeders defended Mr Kloppers' dealmaking skills, saying most companies made mistakes.

"Whether those mistakes are one person's, I find it difficult to believe," he told AAP.

"The board shares responsibility in my mind for any of the mistakes that are made, it shouldn't come down to a single person and it's naive to think that that's the case."

Mr Schroeders said he doubted Mr Kloppers would depart in the short term, citing his recent statements that he had unfinished business there.

BHP shares were up 17 cents to $34.98 on Wednesday.

AAP gr/

Greg Roberts