Lonmin’s chief will return after executive re-jig

Michael Bow
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LONDON-listed miner Lonmin yesterday said its chief executive Ian Farmer will return to take the helm of the business despite a re-jig of executive responsibilities following his hospitalisation.

Farmer, the well-respected chief executive of the firm, took leave of the day to day running of the business last Thursday after being hospitalised following a routine medical.

It is understood the company will wait for him to return to his chief executive role when he recovers instead of looking for a replacement.

In his absence, the company has put management responsibility onto the shoulders of South African born 62-year-old chairman Roger Phillimore, who was appointed to the role in 2009.

It has also moved the firm’s non independent non-executive director Mahomed Seedat, who was chief operating officer until 2010, onto its executive committee to replace Farmer.

Simon Scott, the firm’s chief financial officer, is also stepping up his responsibilities in Farmer’s absence.

The executive shake-up came as violence broke out at Lonmin’s South African mining operations the same day Farmer was hospitalised, following tensions between unions and mine bosses.

Despite the timing of both incidents, it is understood the two are coincidental.

People familiar with the situation said Farmer could be out for a matter of months but that the firm was anticipating his return.

“We’ve not had to bring people from the outside and we’re not looking to. Below board level we have one of the best teams in the business. It’s very stable and there’s minimal change, everyone is signed up to Ian’s strategy,” they said.

Farmer, who is 49, was appointed chief executive in 2008. He joined the company in 1986 and became chief strategic officer in 2001 before being appointed to the top job.

“Ian is a hugely respected and valued member of the business. We wish him a speedy recovery and we look forward to his return after that,” a spokesman for Lonmin said last night.

Crisis-struck FTSE-250 listed miner Lonmin is no stranger to its executive management making the headlines. The company, which is listed in both South Africa and London, is famously known to City watchers in its former incarnation as the London and Rhodesian Mining Company, latterly known as Lonrho. The firm was home to swashbuckling British businessman Roland “Tiny” Rowland who took the reins as chief executive in the 1960s – and expanded the firm’s interests well beyond mining. Rowland’s leadership prompted criticism. A turbulent boardroom battle over mining interests in the 1970s led then Prime Minister Ted Heath to label Lonrho, “the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism”. As Lonrho continued into the 1980s under Rowland’s leadership, its interests became increasingly diverse, eventually becoming locked up in a battle with Egyptian-born Mohamed al-Fayed over control of London's luxury department store Harrods. After Rowland’s departure in 1994 the firm moved to concentrate on its mining interests and in 1998 demerged its mining assets from all its other interests and launched as a sole mining business – renamed as Lonmin.