Co-founder and former CEO James Moffett has stepped down as chairman of the mining company Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE:FCX), which he built and expanded over five decades into one of the world’s largest producers of copper and gold. Moffett’s departure comes as the company faces slumping commodity prices and is considering selling or spinning off its foundational oil and gas division.
The Phoenix-based company is the world’s largest publicly traded copper producer, according to a press release. But lately, China’s economic slowdown has strangled demand for metals and other materials. This year commodity prices hit their lowest point in 16 years. China is the world’s largest copper purchaser and accounts for 45 percent of global copper consumption, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Moffett’s successor as chairman will be Gerald J. Ford, who made a fortune buying and selling banks and has served as lead independent director for Freeport-McMoRan since 2013. The news broke after the market closed Monday with FCX shares at $6.85.
The switch also comes just months after billionaire investor Carl C. Icahn acquired an 8.5 percent share in the company and pressured the board to add two new directors to its ranks. Icahn has scolded the company for a range of issues, including high executive pay, the New York Times reported.
CEO Richard Adkerson earned $55.3 million in 2013, including $38.9 million in direct compensation. The company pointed out that his direct pay in that year was largely a one-time payout for changes made to his contract, but the total figure still landed him at the top of lists of the nation’s highest-paid executives.
As other mining firms cut jobs in response to flailing Chinese demand for goods, Moffett will earn a severance package that could total up to $83.3 million, Bloomberg reported. That includes $16.1 million in severance pay and cash retirement plans that total more than $63 million. Moffett, who is 77, will continue to consult for the company for a fee of $1.5 million a year.
Moffett co-founded an oil and gas drilling company in 1969 with two partners and later merged it with a minerals mining company to create Freeport-McMoRan. Moffett led exploration as the company’s “chief geologist” and drove its expansion into Indonesia to mine one of the world’s largest copper and gold deposits. The company also operates in South America, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Gulf of Mexico, California and Louisiana.