Rio Tinto on Thursday announced that copper and coal chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques will replace Sam Walsh as the new chief executive when he retires in July.

To ensure a smooth transition, Jacques will join the board and become deputy chief executive with immediate effect.

“During more than three years on Rio Tinto’s executive committee, Jacques has brought greater focus to the copper and the coal businesses. He has delivered a step-change in both safety and cash performance while significantly reducing costs.

Sam Walsh will retire as Rio Tinto's chief executive in July
Sam Walsh will retire as Rio Tinto’s chief executive in July

Prior to joining Rio Tinto, Jacques worked for more than 15 years across Europe, Southeast Asia, India and the USA in a wide range of operational and functional positions in the aluminium, bauxite and steel industries. He served as group strategy director for Tata Steel Group from 2007 to 2011.

“Jacques is a very experienced executive with a demonstrated track record and brings a unique blend of strategic and operational expertise,” says Rio Tinto chairman Jan du Plessis, adding that Jacques has run complex operations and projects across five commodities and five continents.

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of a comprehensive and deliberate executive succession process. The board has decided that Jacques is the right person to lead Rio Tinto in an increasingly complex world filled with both challenges and opportunities for our industry.”

On his appointment, Jacques said Rio Tinto is a world-class company with some of the best tier one assets and people in the industry. “It is an honour and a great privilege to be given the opportunity to lead the company as we continue to develop the business and pursue the delivery of value for shareholders.”

On 1 July 2016, Walsh will also retire as a director after almost seven years on the Rio Tinto board.

Du Plessis noted that Walsh was appointed as chief executive at a challenging time for the company and THAT Rio Tinto is grateful for his tremendous leadership during the past three years. “Against the backdrop of a volatile economic environment, Walsh and his team have transformed the business, removing more than $6 billion of costs, strengthening the balance sheet and returning more than $13 billion to shareholders. Sam leaves Rio Tinto as a much stronger company, with a bright future,” said Du Plessis.

Chris Salisbury has been appointed acting chief executive of the copper and coal product group and will attend the Rio Tinto Executive Committee in this capacity. The rest of the executive team remains unchanged.