U.K. Investor Group Chides SAB, Rio on Chairman Decision

A U.K. adviser to institutional investors with more than 1.5 trillion pounds ($2.5 trillion) in assets said shareholders in Rio Tinto Group and SABMiller Plc should be concerned about sharing a chairman from next year.

SABMiller, the world’s second-biggest brewer, said today Jan du Plessis will replace John Manser as chairman in July. Du Plessis, 60, chairman of London-based Rio since 2009, will become an independent non-executive director at the maker of Grolsch and Peroni beers on Sept. 1, it said in a statement.

“Rio is an enormous diversified global resources company and our view would be chairing a company like Rio would be very close to being a full-time job, if it is to be done effectively,” Andrew Whiley, a spokesman for Pensions & Investment Research Consultants Ltd., said by phone. “Are SABMiller really saying that out of all of the talented men and women that could chair their company that this is the best candidate available?”

SABMiller, which has the largest exposure to fast-growing emerging markets of the major brewers, originally started selling beer to gold prospectors in South Africa in 1895, before moving its primary listing to London in 1999 and expanding through a series of acquisitions in markets including Australia and Colombia. Du Plessis has degrees in commerce and law from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and is qualified as a chartered accountant in the country.

‘Natural Decision’

Du Plessis was paid $1.24 million last year by Rio Tinto, down from $1.3 million a year earlier. The current annual fee for SABMiller’s chairman is 650,000 pounds ($1.09 million), Richard Farnsworth, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mail.

“Joining the board of SABMiller is simply one of the most natural decisions I could ever hope to make,” Du Plessis said in a separate statement from Rio Tinto, the world’s second-biggest mining company. The SABMiller position “does not in any way diminish my strong commitment” to Rio Tinto, he said.

Du Plessis plans to serve as chairman of the iron-ore producer for several more years, he said, provided that’s in line with the wishes of board and investors. He will step down as a director of London-based retailer Marks & Spencer Plc in the first half of 2015.

Du Plessis “will spend as much time as is necessary to fulfill his duties as chairman of SABMiller,” Farnsworth said by phone earlier. A spokesman for Rio declined to comment beyond the company’s statement.

Large Organizations

“Shareholders of both Rio and SAB Miller should be concerned,” Whiley from PIRC said. “Is the chair of their company able to allocate sufficient time and attention required to chair two large organizations?”

Du Plessis’ previous roles include finance director of Cie. Financiere Richemont SA, the maker of Cartier jewelry and Montblanc pens, and chairman of British American Tobacco Plc.

He “has not only an excellent record as a chairman of major international groups with developing markets footprints, but also a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of international consumer businesses,” SABMiller’s Manser said in the company’s statement.

Manser was appointed chairman on a temporary basis in December following the death of former SABMiller chief executive officer and Chairman Graham Mackay.

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