Glencore CEO Hints He May Leave Sooner Than Expected

(Bloomberg) — Glencore (LON:) Plc Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg told investors to prepare for more leadership changes, hinting that his own departure may come sooner than previously anticipated.

“There are not many of us old guys left,” said Glasenberg, 62, referring to himself and his peers as the “third generation” of leadership of the company. He said that the retirement of the remaining managers of his era should happen during 2020.

While he said there was no exact timing planned for his own departure, Glasenberg indicated that it could come more rapidly than he’s previously suggested. “It could happen soon,” he said.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Tyler Broda said the comments indicate that he may step down in 12 to 18 months. Last year, Glasenberg said he would leave in three to five years.

“This transition could provide an ability for Glencore to potentially explore other structures or strategies (like spinning out coal) as the challenges of the 2020’s grow,” said Broda.

The passage of the baton at Glencore is a significant moment for the commodities industry. The firm is the world’s largest commodity trader, dominating transactions in most industrial metals, including , zinc and aluminum. The CEO of the Swiss-based, London-listed company has had an outsized role in shaping the world of commodity trading since Glencore was founded by Marc Rich in 1974.

But for more than a year, Glencore has worked under a cloud as the U.S. Department of Justice probes possible corruption and money-laundering at its mining operations. Profits are sliding and 40% of the company’s market value has been erased since the start of 2018.

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Glasenberg’s presentation to investors on Tuesday suggested the company is bracing for further upheaval. Glencore didn’t extend its share buyback program, despite predicting free cash flow next year of $4.4 billion at current commodity prices — well above the $2.6 billion it hopes to pay in dividends.

The shares dropped 3.7%, the most since August, to 235.65 pence.

Glencore has only changed leaders twice in its 45-year history. In 1994, Rich was pushed out after a failed attempt to corner the zinc market, and Glasenberg took over from Willy Strothotte in 2002.

“There’s a good crop of people who could take over,” Glasenberg said on Tuesday. Glencore hasn’t named the people in the running to replace Glasenberg, but Bloomberg reported in October that the three most likely choices are Gary Nagle, Kenny Ives and Nico Paraskevas.

Many of Glencore’s most senior executives have left the company in the past 12 months, including former head of copper trading Telis Mistakidis, head of oil Alex Beard, and head of agriculture Chris Mahoney. Among those that remain are Tor Peterson, head of coal trading, and Daniel Mate, head of lead and zinc trading.

(Adds details from investor presentation in eighth paragraph.)

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