By Denny Thomas and Elzio Barreto
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Simon Murray, the South Pole adventurer and former Vodafone Group Plc board member, told Reuters on Monday that he's in the running for the chairman role at Glencore International AG, the commodities trading giant planning a roughly $10 billion dual listing in London and Hong Kong.
Murray, who lives and works in Hong Kong, has spent 45 years in Asia and has served on the boards of several major companies. Confirming a Sunday Times report that he was among the candidates for the non-executive chair role, the UK-born businessman said he had a long history of successful investment in the mining and resources sectors.
"This is very exciting, but you are talking to someone who has been chased by a leopard. You are talking to someone who has been shot at with a machine gun and missed," Murray told Reuters in an exclusive interview. "As Mr. Churchill once said, the most exhilarating experience in life is to be shot at without result."
Murray, a former French Foreign Legionnaire, said he was keeping his excitement at bay as there had been no final decision on who would become chairman of the company. He said there were three candidates on the short list, including himself.
"It's premature to say anything; it will be the board's decision. They may feel I am a bit young for this," the 71-year-old joked in the 36th floor office of his private equity firm in Hong Kong's Cheung Kong Center.
Rodney Chase, a former BP executive, and ex-Lazard banker Ken Costa have been mentioned in media reports as other potential candidates.
Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore is expected to release its intention to float document in London this week, which will set the ball rolling for its initial public offering. The deal would be London's largest ever and has seized the market's interest in the last several months given the massive company's nearly four decades as a privately held business.
The Hong Kong listing aims to capitalize on the deep pockets of investors in Asia, who are well acquainted with surging demand for metals and other natural resources from fast-growing economies in China and India. The timing of the IPO also benefits Glencore because of record-high prices for many commodities, Murray said.
"Natural resources are always quite exciting, they tend to turn up in the strangest places. So you get a good view of the world," Murray said. "This is an exciting company, this is absolutely the right sector today, commodities."
Glencore aims to select a chairman before its roadshow with IPO investors.
Glencore's current chairman, Willy Strothotte, is leaving in part from his dual-chairmanship of Xstrata, of which Glencore owns 34.5 percent.
Murray, wearing a navy blue jacket, collared shirt and no tie, said if selected as chairman, he'd "be on the phone with Ivan at least once a week," referring to CEO Ivan Glasenberg.
"I've met Ivan, I like Ivan. Apart from anything else, he gave me a very, very long lift to the airport, which was very nice of him. Saved me the taxi money. That was the other day in Switzerland. I always appreciate gestures like that."
Glencore's choice of new chairman, a necessity as the commodities giant abandons its once-fabled secrecy in favor of a London listing, is being watched by many as a test of the company's corporate governance credentials.
The successful candidate will have to hold his own against CEO Glasenberg, a notoriously tough dealer who does not suffer fools, and will also need to reassure investors still uneasy about a company that remains opaque to many and has dealings in some of the world's least palatable economies.
Some fund managers in London are skeptical Murray is the man for the job.
"Realistically, if they want to appoint a proper chairman for a five to 10 year period, is a 71 year old the right choice? Or is this just an interim one for the IPO?" said one London-based equities fund manager specializing in mining and commodities.
Among his previous roles, Murray was managing director of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing's Hutchison Whampoa and serves on boards including Richemont and Essar Energy. He holds the record for the oldest man to walk unsupported to the South Pole, which he completed in 2004 aged 63.
Murray said he would seek to make his mark on the board, should he get the job, given the greater scrutiny on corporate governance from shareholders and investors, particularly on huge bonuses paid to financial executives.
"It's absolutely critical that the board understands what its role is. In today's markets we are permanently under the microscope and we have to make sure we covered and ticked all the boxes," he added.
(Additional reporting by Clara Ferreira Marques in London; Editing by Michael Flaherty and Lincoln Feast)