My Turn: Why Different Is Better

I couldn't say there was one defining moment of how I got to where I am today. But discussions about taking over as CEO of Anglo American came about after I met Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, the chairman of Anglo, at Davos in January 2006. I suppose I'm an extrovert. So I went over and introduced myself and then I said, "And what do you do?" So that was our introduction.

During high school, I was not very turned on by the sciences and thought I would pursue art history and languages. I attended Skidmore College in New York and, knowing that I would have to fulfill my one-year science requirement, I took geology my first semester. I went on for a second semester and then attended Princeton's summer field course in Red Lodge, Montana. This was a turning point, as it was clear I wanted to study geology. From there, I took chemistry, physics and math, enjoying the sciences more than anything else.

Throughout my career, I've worked in a male environment. First it was the oil industry, then the aluminum industry. When I took over as managing director of Canadian aluminum company Alcan's Aughinish Alumina business in Ireland, competitors and insiders thought Alcan was out of its mind to appoint a woman who had no alumina expertise, was young and not Irish. In my experience in male-dominated environments, I've learned that after a couple of months of being in the job, all that really goes away and performance is what matters. Not to sound too simplistic, but being a woman has never been a barrier or an issue for me. There were times when people thought I was too young or didn't have the background but I never believed anything to be insurmountable. In business, there are always challenges to deal with but you find ways to tackle them or different approaches to offset them.

At Anglo American, I suppose that I am even more different. When I returned from my last business trip, just after my appointment, my husband showed me a Web site listing the CVs of the former CEOs of Anglo. Clearly, I am not terribly similar. I am a woman and I am not South African. Being different may be a plus. I am bringing a new perspective to Anglo. I also believe that my appointment is a clear reflection of the progressiveness of the board of directors. They have taken a unique position in a historically conservative industry.

I do think that I am particularly strong at bringing together a global organization and working to motivate people. I subscribe, for example, to using the talent base in existence on the ground and working to get the most out of individuals. In the case of Alcan in China, we took the position as managing partner in a 50-50 joint venture of a 150,000-ton smelter to have four expats managing a facility of 1,200 people. Becoming more global in approach and mind-set is a key priority for Anglo to capitalize on its strengths throughout the world. In a given week, I might be in Asia, South Africa, Europe and the Middle East. This is something that I have experience with from my previous position. A few years ago, approximately 80 percent of Alcan's primary metal asset base was in Canada while today the assets are spread across 20 countries. We took positions in countries where we had no experience or presence, like Oman, China and South Africa.

My No. 1 objective as CEO at Anglo is to maximize shareholder value. We have one of the strongest project pipelines in the industry and I'll be looking to see how we can further grow our business. Anglo has a tremendous asset base, a motivated work force and a forward-looking board. I am thrilled to be taking over the helm during this exciting time.