Giant miner BHP Billiton, currently the largest mining operator in the world, has refused to categorically confirm reports that the company's CEO, Marius Kloppers, is on his way out after more than five years of stay that was mostly characterised by incredible growth and expansion.
But a BHP spokeswoman was reported by Agence France Presse (AFP) as saying that there was indeed an ongoing succession process that would eventually lead to the hiring of a new pointman for the resource giant, which Mr Kloppers has steered to record financial results since the start of his tenure in October 2007.
Essentially, she confirmed the earlier report of Financial Times, indicating that BHP chairman Jac Nasser has initiated under wraps a head-hunting procedure to pinpoint the next CEO to carry on the works of Mr Kloppers.
It appears too that the process was in response to investors' earlier clamour that there should be at least a clearly laid-out pattern that would effectively sustain the functions of the BHP CEO following Mr Kloppers' half-decade of reign.
"BHP Billiton's board has always ensured that it has a well-integrated, continual succession process in place for our 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," The Australian reported a BHP statement as saying on Wednesday.
AFP said the whole CEO search could last two years, more or less, but BHP said the process is not governed by a definite time frame.
Nonetheless, the report, according to analysts, belied earlier declarations by Mr Nasser September this year that there was no immediate plan to overhaul the top executive team of BHP despite the prevalence of soft market conditions that saw the firm's market value and revenues tumbling down.
BHP's share value has retreated by up to 30 per cent since last year parallel with weakening global commodity prices, Dow Jones said, leading to dwindling profits for the company and spawning restiveness among shareholders.
In spite of the challenges, Mr Nasser had asserted that "we are very fortunate to have Marius as the chief executive of the company, and he has been there for five years, and they've been five very, very successful years."
"I wouldn't swap them when the world was booming, and I certainly wouldn't swap them now because times are more difficult," he further declared.
But that was two months ago and stories now abound that Australia's mining has already peaked, leading many analysts to predict that tenures of CEOs for resources-centric companies would be far from being secured.
According to Bradford Research analyst Charles Bradford, "any leader of a natural resource company whose stock has fallen is going to be in trouble."
But Mr Bradford told Dow Jones that Mr Kloppers is out of the axing list as BHP is doing relatively compared to other industry players."
"BHP and (Mr) Kloppers is looking better than most, thanks in part to its exposure to oil," Dow Jones reported him as saying.