NEW YORK (AP) — James R. Moffett, the executive chairman and co-founder of the mining company Freeport-McMoRan, is stepping down as plunging commodity prices lead to mass layoffs across the entire industry.
The company is one of the world's biggest producers of gold and copper, both of which have tumbled in value this year. Copper has plunged more than 26 percent as signs of a significant slowdown in China grow clearer.
Activist investor Carl Icahn also revealed a large stake in the company recently. Icahn had pushed for cost cuts and came to an agreement with the company that put his affiliates on the board.
Shares of Freeport-McMoRan fell 61 cents, or 8.1 percent, to $6.95 in midday trading.
Moffett, who helped form the company in 1969, will resign as chair and leave the board of directors Thursday.
Gerald J. Ford, the company's lead independent director, will become non-executive chairman and Richard C. Adkerson continues as president and CEO.
During his over 50-year career in the natural resource industry, Jim Bob has become an icon as an explorationist," Ford said.
Moffett, who goes by "Jim Bob," has been the Freeport McMoRan Inc.'s executive chairman since 2003 and previously served as CEO from 1995 to 2003. Moffett and two associates founded McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. in 1969 and in 1981 led the effort to merge McMoRan Oil & Gas Co. and Freeport Minerals Co.
Moffett will receive $16.1 million in severance and continue to provide consulting services to the board for an annual fee of $1.5 million.
In August the Phoenix-based company announced plans to lower spending, cut production and cut about 10 percent of its workforce in the wake of declining copper prices. Following that announcement, activist investor Carl Icahn disclosed that he bought a stake in the mining company and that he might seek representation on the board.