Marius Kloppers will retire as BHP Billiton CEO on May 10 and be replaced by Andrew Mackenzie, the global mining giant said Wednesday in a surprise announcement.
The 56-year-old Mackenzie, currently chief executive non-ferrous, has over 30 years experience in oil and gas, petrochemicals and minerals and joined BHP Billiton in November 2008, the company said in a statement.
South African Kloppers has been running the world's largest miner since October 2007, steering it through the global financial crisis.
Last month he warned that China's steel surge had peaked and iron ore and steel growth was likely to decline, meaning that record commodity prices seen over the past decade would not continue.
Chairman Jac Nasser paid tribute to Kloppers.
"He drove new investments into next generation opportunities including US onshore gas and liquids and created one of the most valuable companies in the world," Nasser said.
"He leaves BHP Billiton a safer and stronger company."
BHP Billiton had previously said it was always thinking about succession planning, but gave no timeframe amid market expectation the process would take a year or two.
"Andrew brings a unique combination of deep industry knowledge and global management experience to the CEO role," Nasser added.
"Andrew held senior positions in BP and Rio Tinto before joining BHP Billiton in 2008. He has led our Non-Ferrous division for the last five years working across four continents with responsibility for over half of our 100,000 people."
"Our succession planning process has served the company well for over a decade. Today's announcement is a result of that planned and considered process."
"The Board has decided that Andrew is the right person to lead BHP Billiton in a changing global environment," said Nasser.
Mackenzie said: "It is a privilege to be asked to lead one of Australia's great companies and the world's leading diversified natural resources company.
"I look forward to working closely with Marius during the transition and building on his legacy including continuing the focus on our strategy of owning and safely operating large, low cost, long life assets diversified by commodity, geography and market."
Kloppers will leave the company on October 1.
"Deciding the right time to retire was never going to be easy," he said.
"However after almost twenty years with BHP Billiton, twelve as a senior executive and nearly six as CEO, I believe now is the right time to pass the leadership baton."
Mackenzie will be based at the company's headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.