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Mining with a mission: Marius Kloppers

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  • "When you see a fork on the road ... take it"
  • "That experience against a backdrop of elections in rural Zulu land was formative"
  • Apartheid "forced me at an early stage to see whether I could spread my wings"
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MELBOURNE, Australia (CNN) -- Marius Kloppers is a man on a mission. Last October, at the age of 45, he became CEO of one of the world's biggest companies, mining giant BHP Billiton. Less than two months later, he launched what would be one of the biggest corporate takeovers in history -- an estimated 150 billion dollar megabid for rival Rio Tinto. The Boardroom's Andrew Stevens met the soft-spoken South African at BHP's global headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.

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Marius Kloppers, CEO of mining giant BHP Billiton

AS: Why launch such an audacious bid so early on the job?

MK: Everybody in this industry, all of the employees I would contend, have known that these two companies logically fit together, have known this for a very long time.

AS: So why didn't they act on it before, do you think?

MK: Well, there have been repeated contacts between these two parties. There have been multiple instances where various parties have tried to put a deal together. That has never succeeded. In reality, all we've done now is we've crystallized that option.

AS: You are 45 years old. You are chief executive officer of the biggest diversified mining house in the world, which is a very young age to be running this company. Did you have that ambition to get to this sort of level at this sort age? Were you driven to do that?

MK: My drive has always been towards different experiences. If you look at my early career, in my 20s and 30s, it was a drive to see new things. And to when you see a fork on the road, to take it.

AS: So it's the journey, rather than the end.

MK: I think that would be an accurate description.

AS: Was there a moment in your career which meant more to you and defined you more than any other, do you think?

MK: I joined the company after having left South Africa in the mid '80s, and this was in the early '90s just before the election. We took a decision, prior to all the changes that were happening in South Africa, that we were going to have a workforce that by gender and ethnicity and so on was going to reflect the demographics of the country. Well, in order to get about a thousand people, we worked our way through 65,000 CVs, 10,000 tests, 5,000 interviews to get that workforce. That experience against a backdrop of elections and changes and so on, and in rural Zulu land, was very formative.

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AS: Do you think that being a South African forges you in a different way? And coming from the era, the apartheid era in which you grew up in, do you think that has had an impact?

MK: I think the biggest impact is that it has forced me to examine at an early stage to see whether I could spread my wings. That really led to some of the things that we've been talking about, moving around, doing different things and so on. On that basis, that it has been a plus.

All About Marius KloppersBHP Billiton Ltd.

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