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Rio Tinto has ended a nine-month search for a new chairman, appointing Simon Thompson, one of its non-executive directors, to the post.

Mr Thompson, a Briton who also chairs UK private equity group 3i, will take up the position in March, when Jan du Plessis steps down.

“I am honoured to accept this role and to succeed Jan as chairman,” said Mr Thompson.

“Rio Tinto is in great shape, with a strong management team, world-class assets and a successful strategy. I look forward to leading the board as we work with [chief executive] Jean-Sébastien Jacques and his team to ensure that Rio Tinto continues to deliver superior returns for its shareholders by maintaining its capital discipline and ‘value-over-volume’ approach.”

The Anglo-Australian group has been looking for a new chairman since March, when Mr du Plessis announced he was stepping down to join BT Group. He has been chairman for almost nine years.

Mick Davis, the former boss of Xstrata, looked set to the get the job — one of the most prestigious in the mining industry — until a group of big shareholders blocked his appointment.

That opened the way for Mr Thompson, who joined the Rio board in 2014 and heads its remuneration committee, to the get the coveted position.

Big shareholders in Rio told the Financial Times last week that Mr Thompson would be a good choice as chairman, citing his experience of the resources industry and the boardroom.

Mr Thompson ran the base metals division of Anglo American between 2001 and 2004 and was the chairman of Tullow Oil for five years until April.

Ann Godbehere, the Rio non-executive director who led the search, said Mr Thompson brought a deep understanding of the mining industry to the job and as well as a strong record in the boardroom.

Rio Tinto is due to brief investors later today on its strategy for the year ahead. The company, the world’s second-biggest producer of steelmaking ingredient iron ore, has promised to deliver $5bn of cash returns by 2021 through sweating its assets harder.

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