Anglo American Plc, whose mines made South Africa the continent’s biggest economy, said Nicky Oppenheimer will leave the company, making it the first time a member of the family hasn’t sat on the board since they created the business in 1917.
“Anglo American has been in the psyche of every member of my family since the company was founded nearly a century ago,” Oppenheimer, 65, said in a statement today. “There comes a time when it is right to stand aside.” He was on Anglo’s board for about 37 years and is sub-Saharan Africa’s richest man, according to Forbes.com.
Anglo was founded by Nicky’s grandfather, Ernest Oppenheimer, to exploit the world’s biggest gold field, the Witwatersrand near Johannesburg. In 1929 he also took control of De Beers, later making it the world’s biggest diamond business and linking it to Anglo through cross-shareholdings between the companies.
His son, Harry, took over as chairman in 1957 and led the expansion into South African banking, steel, sugar and paper as the country’s isolation during apartheid stopped the company buying mines elsewhere. Nicky never served as Anglo’s chairman, taking the post of deputy chairman from 1983 to 2001.
The company moved its headquarters to London in 1999 to make it easier to raise money as it expanded abroad.
Cynthia Carroll reorganized management after being named chief executive officer in 2007. She advanced the strategy of her predecessor, Tony Trahar, selling assets from sugar to paper to focus on copper, iron ore, nickel and other raw materials demanded by the expanding economies of China and India.
‘End of an Era’
“It’s the end of an era,” David Davis, a mining analyst at SBG Securities Ltd., a unit of Africa’s biggest lender Standard Bank Group Ltd., said in an interview from Johannesburg. Davis has been involved in the local mining industry for more than three decades. “Over the years the Oppenheimers have shifted away from South Africa and Anglo.”
The Oppenheimer family sold about 64 million pounds ($100 million) of Anglo shares in December, leaving their stake in the company at about 1.9 percent. In 2006, they sold 1.13 percent of Anglo to billionaire Larry Yung’s China Vision Resources for about $803 million. The family held a 7.2 percent stake in 2001.
“The interests of the family and the interests of Anglo are possibly no longer as solid as the family would like,” Liston Meintjes, former chief investment officer of Metropolitan Asset Managers, said by phone from Cape Town today.
Committed to Diamonds
Nicky Oppenheimer remains chairman of De Beers, a position he has held since 1998. His family owns 40 percent of the Johannesburg-based company while Anglo owns 45 percent. De Beers is expanding in Canada while disposing of aging mines in South Africa and gets most of its output from a venture in Botswana.
Together with his family he has an estimated net worth of $5 billion, according to a March 2010 report by Forbes.com. Nicky Oppenheimer told De Beers staff today that his decision to leave Anglo “has nothing to do with his family’s commitment to De Beers,” the diamond company said in an e-mailed response to a query.
Anglo doesn’t plan to change the ownership structure of De Beers, Carroll told reporters last week. London’s Sunday Times reported in December that Anglo may buy the Oppenheimer family out of the diamond company for at least 2 billion pounds.
Nicky Oppenheimer was educated at Harrow School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he read politics, philosophy and economics, according to the family’s Brenthurst Library website. His son Jonathan has held positions at Anglo.
Together with his wife, Strilli, he supports wildlife and conservation projects, according to the website.
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