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Carl Icahn Just Pressured This Executive into Resigning

December 29, 2015, 2:16 PM UTC
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CNBC EVENTS -- Pictured: Carl Icahn, Chairman, Icahn Enterprises, at the 2015 Delivering Alpha Conference on July 15, 2015 -- (Photo by: Adam Jeffery/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) co-founder James Moffett will step down as chairman and quit its board, months after the miner added two new directors under pressure from billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

Freeport said Moffett, who had been appointed chairman emeritus, would be a consultant to its board and advise the company on its Indonesia operations.

Moffett, 77, played a key role in developing Indonesia’s Grasberg gold and copper deposit, one of the world’s largest.

Freeport shares fell more than 9 percent to $6.86 on Monday.

“After careful consideration, the board concluded that a change in the position of chairman would be in the best interests of the company and its stockholders,” a company spokesman said in an email.

“Moffett and the board mutually agreed that he would step down.”

Icahn, who owned 8.8% of Freeport as of Sept. 22, has criticized the miner’s spending, capital structure, and executive compensation at a time of weak commodity prices.

Icahn and Freeport reached an agreement in October, putting “restrictions” on the activist investor seeking the removal of any board members.

The company said then it would reduce the number of directors to nine from 16, and separate its oil and gas business from its mining operations.

Freeport entered the oil and gas business in 2013 with the acquisitions of Plains Exploration and McMoRan Exploration for $9 billion. The move raised eyebrows because Moffett was also McMoRan’s largest individual shareholder and CEO.

“Since [Moffett] has been chairman, the stock has gone from a high of $60 down to $7,” Tigress Financial Partners analyst Ivan Feinseth said.

“And when the stock was approaching $60, they decided to diversify away from metals and mining into oil … so that would be another bad decision.”

Moffett, who has been chairman of Freeport and its predecessor companies since 1984, co-founded McMoRan Oil & Gas Co in 1969 and led its merger with Freeport Minerals Co in 1981.

His departure comes a couple of months after Freeport scrapped its unusual “Office of the Chairman” structure.

The “office,” which comprised Moffett, Chief Executive Richard Adkerson and James Flores, head of the company’s oil and gas business, was seen as overpowering the role of the lead independent director.

Freeport also named on Monday Gerald Ford, its lead independent director since 2013, as its non-executive chairman.

In his new role, Moffett will receive an annual consulting fee of $1.5 million, Freeport said.