The incoming chief executive of mining giant BHP, Mike Henry, has refused to say whether the company will bow to increasing shareholder pressure and quit the Minerals Council of Australia over its position on global heating.
Henry also declined to say whether he would be quitting his role as vice chair of the Minerals Council when he takes over from current chief executive Andrew Mackenzie at the end of the year.
However, Henry said he endorsed the position taken on climate by the company under Mackenzie, who earlier this year described global heating as a crisis requiring “the biggest global mobilisation since World War II”.
BHP is under increased pressure to quit the Minerals Council after a motion calling on it to exit industry bodies that have a long-term track record at odds with the company’s support of emissions reduction received a vote of almost 30% in favour at its annual meeting of shareholders in Sydney last week.
The company is currently reviewing its membership of industry bodies and has pledged to reveal whether it will take any action by the end of the year.
“Our position on climate change doesn’t change, I am fully committed to the goals that we’ve put out there,” Henry told reporters on Thursday.
“In terms of my approach to engagement, I believe that social value is not an elective for the company.”
He did not directly answer when asked whether he would resign his position at the Minerals Council.
“The company’s position on industry associations is clear, nothing changes on that front,” he said.
Chairman Ken MacKenzie – who joked that the change of boss would finally clear up confusion between the chairman and the chief executive – said there were benefits to BHP remaining inside industry associations, including developing solutions to complex problems such as the climate crisis and the safety of tailings dams.
“Our policies, which are BHP’s policies, we map our industry associations against that.
“If there are differences, if there are material differences, then we act, and we’ve got a very solid track record around acting.”
The president of BHP’s Australian mining operations for the past three years, 16-year BHP veteran Henry will become chief executive on 1 January.
Henry indicated that for the time being it would be business as usual for BHP, and paid tribute to Mackenzie for leaving the company in a strong position.
He said that to keep operations safe at BHP, where one worker died last year, kept him up at night.
“That’s the call you dread, that’s one that’s such a passionate focus for me.
“The other thing that would keep me awake at night is that we do live in an uncertain world.”
Mackenzie, who in a six-and-a-half year tenure oversaw the spin-off of South32 and the sale of BHP’s US shale gas assets, said he was leaving the company in a good position.
“We have a simple portfolio, a strong balance sheet and options to grow value and returns for decades to come,” Mackenzie said on Thursday.
“Fresh leadership will deliver an acceleration in the enormous potential for value and returns that will come from BHP’s next wave of transformation.”
Mackenzie became chief executive in May 2013, replacing Marius Kloppers, who had led the firm through the global financial crisis and into Australia’s mining boom.
BHP’s share price dropped to a near 11-year low $14.06 as the boom petered out against a backdrop of falling iron ore prices, but Mackenzie has overseen a three-year share price recovery to $36.79 before Thursday’s open.
He guided BHP through the 2015 spin-off of diversified miner South32 and last year’s sale of its underperforming US shale oil and gas business, as well as a name change from BHP Billiton.
Mackenzie will step down as a member of the company’s executive leadership team and as an executive director on 31 December, before fully retiring from the group on 30 June.
The BHP chairman, Ken MacKenzie, said Henry’s 30 years in the mining industry made him the ideal replacement.
The Canadian-born executive will receive a remuneration package consistent with that of Mackenzie’s, including a base annual salary of US$1.7m ($2.49m).