Jean-Sébastien Jacques, head of the miner’s copper and coal division, will succeed Sam Walsh
SYDNEY—Rio Tinto PLC said Chief Executive Sam Walsh will retire in July, a surprise that comes as the mining giant and its peers look for a way out of a prolonged commodity slump.
Investors cheered the change, sending shares up 3.7%. Rio said Mr. Walsh will be replaced as of July 2 by the miner’s copper boss, Jean-Sébastien Jacques, named deputy CEO in the interim.
Although Rio slumped to an $866 million loss last year, the 66-year old Mr. Walsh has been widely credited with turning around its fortunes in his three years on the job, mainly by cutting costs and investment after several years of heavy spending on failed acquisitions.
While many of its peers continue to slim down, Rio has shown early signs of switching gears even as metals prices hover near multiyear lows. The Anglo-Australian miner has approved a bauxite project in Australia and lined up financing to expand a Mongolian copper mine—a process spearheaded by the 44-year old Mr. Jacques.
Rio’s change of leadership comes after the chief executive of its Anglo-Australian rival BHP Billiton PLC, Andrew Mackenzie, told The Wall Street Journal this week it is looking for acquisition opportunities, particularly in copper and petroleum.
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