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Jacynthe Cote, speaks to reporters in Montreal, Tuesday, Jan., 20, 2009. On Tuesday, Rio Tinto said Alfredo Barrios will replace Cote as head of the company’s aluminum operation.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jacynthe Côté, Rio Tinto Ltd.'s head of aluminum operations, is stepping down.

The Anglo-Australian global mining giant said on Tuesday that Ms. Côté is leaving Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan "for personal reasons to pursue other interests."

She is being replaced by BP PLC veteran Alfredo Barrios, 48, the executive director and executive vice-president (downstream) at joint venture TNK-BP, one of Russia's largest vertically integrated oil and gas companies.

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Ms. Côté was promoted to the job in 2009, two years after her predecessor – Richard Evans – presided over the huge $38-billion takeover of Alcan Inc. by Rio Tinto.

"Jacynthe has long been a key member of Rio Tinto's leadership team and has enjoyed a successful career with Rio Tinto and Alcan spanning more than 25 years," said Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh.

"The ongoing improvement in the performance of the Aluminium business is testimony to her commitment to the business throughout her career."

Under Ms. Côté's watch, aluminum prices fell dramatically, forcing significant cost-cutting measures and job cuts at head office and elsewhere.

Since 2009, about 600,000 tonnes of high-cost capacity at underperforming smelters has been taken out of production, including 100,000 tonnes resulting from the closure of operations at Shawinigan, Que.

At the end of last year, Rio Tinto Alcan said there would be no major new projects "for the foreseeable future" besides completion of the modernization of the Kitimat, B.C. smelter.

Mr. Barrios will step into his new job on June 1 and Ms. Côté will stay on until September in an advisory capacity to help during the transition period, said Rio Tinto.

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Mr. Barrios has held several positions at BP, including leading its operations in Spain and Portugal.

Ms. Côté joined Alcan in 1988. She was head of the primary metal division at Rio Tinto Alcan before taking on the CEO job.

During her mandate she has championed the company's innovative AP60 technology.

Rio Tinto Alcan's $1.1-billion (U.S.) Arvida Aluminum Smelter in Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, Que. is billed as the most technologically advanced aluminum smelter in the world, producing 40 per cent more aluminum per cell than the previous AP generation, the company said when the facility was unveiled in January.

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