Mark Cutifani may have just taken on one of the most challenging jobs in mining, but the whirlwind visits to lunch with his elderly mother, Barbara, in Wollongong are unlikely to become any less frequent.
Cutifani, a 54-year-old mining engineer who cut his teeth in the coalmines of NSW's Illawarra region, was yesterday confirmed as the new chief executive of the world's fifth largest mining house, London-based Anglo American.
Anglo American arguably has more issues to address than his previous employer, gold major AngloGold Ashanti. Its share price has fallen almost 40 per cent in the past two years as it has wrestled with cost blowouts on major projects, restructuring and setting a strong path for growth.
However, Anglo American also has more assets in NSW than AngloGold. The need to check up regularly on the Anglo Coal operations in the Hunter Valley should give Cutifani ample opportunity to pop down and see his mum.
"He's a wonderful son," Barbara Cutifani told Fairfax from her Wollongong home yesterday. "He gets here when he can."
Cutifani initially entered the mining industry straight from school in 1976 and a year later started a mining engineering degree at the University of Wollongong while still working in a coalmine part-time.
While there is no doubting his professional abilities, colleagues and peers say it is his regard for family and natural people skills that set him apart as a leader.
"He's good technically, a good mining engineer, very solid in all aspects, both underground and open cut," says Peter Johnston, who worked under Cutifani at Western Mining and now runs Glencore's nickel business out of Western Australia. "But when you get to managerial level, you don't do a lot of mining so he's got good interactive skills. He can mix with the airleg miner to the board. He's comfortable with the breadth of interactions."
Others point to what Cutifani, who has seven children from two marriages, achieved in terms of improving safety at AngloGold as proof he possesses a level of compassion rarely found in mining company chiefs.
When he began with AngloGold in 2007, he was horrified by the number of fatalities it was reporting at its deep South African goldmines and promptly made safety his number one priority.
Within 2½ years, he had reduced the death rate at the company's mines by 70 per cent. Further improvement has been made in the years since.
The man known throughout the industry as "Cuta" has also proven himself a capable industry spokesman and advocate, providing valuable input into the debate on the mining tax and industrial relations among other issues in recent years.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke says he is not in a position to say whether
Cutifani is better suited to the Anglo American job than his predecessor, Cynthia Carroll, or anyone else.
But Hooke regards Cutifani as "quite an exceptional industry leader" based on his dealings with him on the Minerals Council and the International Council for Mining and Metals.
"He's got many great attributes but one of them that stands out is his understanding of the intersection between public policy and commerce," Hooke says.
"He gets it and he gets it at a domestic and international level. By getting it, that means he understands where the pressure points are and he can put his finger on them."
For all his attributes and past achievements though, it is primarily the financial and sharemarket performance of Anglo American on which he will be judged from now.
Anglo is by far the most exposed of the major miners to South Africa, where labour unrest and resource nationalisation issues are rearing their heads, and, unlike its bigger rivals, has a strong presence in platinum and diamonds.
It has also run into serious problems with its attempt to build an iron ore business in Brazil, with the cost of its Minas Rio project blowing out from $US3.5 billion to $US8 billion-plus.
As a result of these issues, the company is trading at a discount to the sum of its parts and many investors believe the most value would be created through a break-up. The company is also viewed as a potential takeover target for the likes of Glencore Xstrata.
Former colleagues acknowledge that Cutifani has a major task in front of him to reverse Anglo's fortunes. But they believe he is the right man for the job.
"He's got a good rich history in mining," Orica chief executive Ian Smith, who worked with Cutifani at WMC, says. "Congratulations to him. I wish him all the best."
Australian Financial Review