Anthony Hilton: Anglo's future is in invisible hands

A month ago, few people would have heard of Cynthia Carroll or known what she did. She is, however, one of three women to head a FTSE 100 company - her claim to fame being that she is chief executive of Anglo American, one of the world's great mining companies.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

Other than the flurry of publicity that greeted her appointment, she has kept a low profile, but this has now changed. A rival mining company, Xstrata, has proposed a merger that Anglo does not want and that most assume would be a takeover by any other name. So, guided by Brunswick's Alan Parker, Anglo is now playing catch-up to position the hitherto invisible Carroll as someone in whose hands the future of Anglo American is safe.

At the end of last week, almost every newspaper featured an interview with her and if success were measured like wallpaper, then this was it in spades. But the trouble was that in none of the interviews did she say anything interesting.

It was the kind of guff that every chief executive spouts if you let him or her get away with it. It may fill the space, but it does not change perceptions. If the point of this PR was to prove Carroll can cut the mustard, then it failed, because she was not prepared to take risks and engage with her interviewers. We still don't know who she is.

This may not matter. Most probably the real game is similar to the one Parker used in defending BAA, the airport operator, where success comes not from defeating the bid, but by making the other side pay an eye-watering amount to win.

If Carroll cannot be positioned as a leader in whom people can believe, then phase two of the campaign will no doubt focus on how unique the assets of the business are and how much more they will be worth when the global economy has picked up.

That strategy might be good news for shareholders, but it is rather depressing for those of us who believe Anglo really should stay independent and that the merger of Anglo and Xstrata would create a dangerous monopoly in which its customers will suffer.

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