Who Will Be BHP’s New Iron Chief?

BHP Billiton’s (NYSE:BHP) big iron ore expansion in its home market of Australia will come under a new head. The mining company announced on Friday that iron ore chief Ian Ashby will leave his position after 25 years with the company. The iron ore division doubled its earnings to $13.3 billion in 2011 under Ashby, forming 42 percent of the company’s earnings.

Jimmy Wilson, who headed energy coal, will take over, starting with the $11 billion expansion at Port Hedland in Western Australia, which doubles BHP’s ore capacity to 240 million tons a year.

BHP did not give a reason for the change, but word is that Ashby did not want to stay on until the end of the Australia project, scheduled for 2016.

“In terms of management renewal at this time — maybe it is a good time when you have significant large projects due to be delivered over the next five years,” Ben Lyons of ATI Asset Management, a BHP shareholder, told Reuters.

“This is a highly efficient operation that is on track to deliver substantial, transformational growth over the next decade, which is testament largely to his leadership,” BHP chief executive Marius Kloppers said of Ashby.

Ashby had iron ore prices and mining stocks plunging last week after saying that iron ore demand growth had stopped growing in China, the biggest buyer of iron ore in the world. China is BHP’s largest customer.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aabha Rathee at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com