It might still be three months until Rio Tinto’s new chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques officially takes the top job, but already investors and analysts are looking to understand what the Frenchman will make his top priorities.
Investors will hear from Jacques at Rio’s London annual meeting on Thursday, although incumbent Sam Walsh will still be centre stage. Rio will also report its March quarter production numbers next week. But for many, the man known in Rio circles as JS is an unknown quantity. While that means he will need to sell himself to the market, it also gives him that rare thing in the business world – a clean slate.
In the days following the anointment of Jacques, Rio was quick to hose down expectations that the changing of the guard would herald a new era of expansion at the miner. That is largely because Rio’s merger and acquisitions sins of the past – such as its $US38 billion acquisition of Alcan in 2007 – are still a little fresh.
But given Jacques’ history in strategy and deal-making, and his current position as head of copper at Rio, his appointment has been widely read as a shift in the board’s mentality and an end of three years of austerity under the “safe hands” of Walsh.
Many believe now is the time for Rio to expand – while most of its peers are too weak to. Jacques has a reputation for being charming and approachable but also for having a harder edge.
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