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Chief Executive Officer of Anglo American Cynthia Carroll attends the G20 CEO Summit in Seoul November 10, 2010.

Aly Song/Reuters

The surprise resignation Friday of Cynthia Carroll, the Alcan-trained CEO of global mining group Anglo American, comes as a blow to female corporate advancement.

Ms. Carroll, 55, was one of only four women CEOs among FTSE-100 companies. She was the first woman to take the top job at Anglo when she joined the company in 2007, as well as the first non-South African and the first non-insider. Founded in Johannesburg in 1917 by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, London-based Anglo had always picked its bosses from its own ranks.

Anglo shares rose more 4 per cent in London Friday on the news that the search has begun for a new CEO. Ms. Carroll will not leave the company until her replacement is named, likely some time in the first half of 2013.

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When she leaves Anglo, the FTSE-100 companies will be left with only three female CEOs: Marjorie Scardino of Pearson PLC, who is stepping down at year's end; Burberry's Angela Ahrendts and Imperial Tobacco's Alison Cooper.

Rejecting suggestions that Ms. Carroll was pushed out, Chairman John Parker, her long-standing supporter, told reporters in London that there had been "differences of opinion" with shareholders but the decision to step down was her own, as she approached her seventh year in a "very gruelling and demanding role."

Ms. Carroll, a New Jersey-born geologist, worked for Alcan in Montreal from 1989 until she joined Anglo in March, 2007. Her last job at Alcan was head of its primary metals group, one of the aluminum maker's top jobs.

Her honeymoon at Anglo was short. A year after she joined, the financial crisis hit, followed by a global slowdown and recessions in some of Anglo's biggest markets, including Europe and the United States. More recently, Anglo found itself in a legal battle with Codelco, Chile's state-owned miner, and got swept up in the wildcat mining strikes in South Africa that turned violent, curtailed production and damaged the country's financial stability. Anglo-controlled Anglo Platinum, the world's biggest platinum producer, dismissed 12,000 illegally striking workers earlier this month, after they refused to return to work.

Under Ms. Carroll, Anglo has been a market underperformer. All mining companies were clobbered in the financial crisis and all recovered rather well. But Anglo's recovery was slower than most and its shares have deteriorated badly since the start 2011. In the last five years, the shares have lost more than 40 per cent. Since Ms. Carroll became CEO, Anglo's market value has fallen by about £12-billion ($25-billion).

Investors are taking an increasingly dim view of Anglo's outsized exposure to South Africa, where economic and social turmoil are dominating the news. S&P last week revised its outlook on Anglo to negative because of its big exposure to South Africa. About half of Anglo's EBITDA – earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization – come from its hefty South African coal, iron ore and platinum operations.

There is no obvious candidate for the Anglo job, though Mick Davis, the CEO of rival Xstrata, has already been mentioned as a candidate and already dismissed as one by Anglo's chairman, John Parker. "It would not be unreasonable for me to suggest that we couldn't afford him," he said, according to the Financial Times.

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Mr. Davis, who is South African, is about to become the CEO of the merged Xstrata-Glencore group and has promised to leave after six months to make way for Glencore boss Ivan Glasenberg. In 2009, Xstrata tried to buy Anglo but was rebuffed by Ms. Carroll. As one, Xstrata and Glencore will no doubt be tempted to make a run at Anglo. But that is unlikely to happen soon, given the rigours of putting Xstrata, a mining company, and Glencore, a trading company, together.

With files from Reuters

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