Rio Tinto’s Mitchell Exits After 6 Years as Head of M&A

Rio Tinto Group (RIO) head of mergers and acquisitions Philip Mitchell has left after more than 30 years with the world’s second-largest mining company.

Mitchell had the title of head of business development and had been in the role for the past six years. He was replaced on an acting basis by Matt Halliday, Rio’s director of business development for Australia, according to a company memo obtained by Bloomberg News.

Mitchell, who was also previously chief financial officer of Rio’s iron ore unit, left the company last month, according to two people with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified as his departure hadn’t been made public. Mitchell declined to comment on his exit, as did a Rio spokesman.

Rio is among mining companies that are reining in spending and acquisitions after a decline in commodity prices that followed a decade-long boom. The London-based company’s appetite for M&A is diminished following “dreadful mistakes” in the past, Chief Executive Officer Sam Walsh said in December. His predecessor, Tom Albanese, left a year ago after Rio announced $14 billion of writedowns on aluminum and coal deals.

Mitchell led the company’s defense against a hostile $66 billion takeover bid by BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) that was aborted in 2008, according to the internal memo. As part of that defense, he also managed talks with Aluminum Corp. of China on a $19.5 billion investment deal that was later scrapped in favor of a share sale and an iron ore joint venture with BHP, the memo shows.

Canada, Mozambique

Rio has written down by more than half the valuation of its $38 billion takeover of Canadian aluminum producer Alcan Inc., a deal that was announced in 2007, before Mitchell became head of M&A. It also wrote down 70 percent of the value of its A$3.9 billion ($3.5 billion) purchase of coal producer Riversdale Mining Ltd. Doug Ritchie, Rio’s head of strategy who led the purchase of the Mozambique coal company, stepped down at the same time as Albanese.

Rio announced last year it was cutting 217 jobs at its London headquarters as part of a cost-cutting plan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jesse Riseborough in London at jriseborough@bloomberg.net; Liezel Hill in Toronto at lhill30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Viljoen at jviljoen@bloomberg.net

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