Ivan Glasenberg

Much of the commentary on the merger of global commodities giants Glencore International and Xstrata has focused on the personalities of the two South Africans at the centre of events: Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg and Xstrata CEO Mick Davis.

The merger was voted through last week after extended negotiations with key shareholders and an overwhelming "no" to proposals to pay incentive packages to Xstrata management. Now eyes will turn to what Glasenberg and Davis will do next.

Both tend to be described as hard bargainers, brash (in London terms) and ambitious. Glasenberg is a former coal trader and Davis was previously financial director of BHP Billiton and Eskom.

Davis will stay on at the merged group for six months and then make way for Glasenberg to become CEO.

It has been suggested that this could reflect a cooling of relations between the two executives, whose companies have been linked for the past 10 years. Glencore spun out its SA and Australian coal, ferrochrome and vanadium interests into Xstrata, retaining a significant stake, and listed it on the London and Swiss stock exchanges in 2002 with Davis as CEO.

Contradicting suggestions of a rift is a Bloomberg report that Glasenberg said in a June speech: "I'm happy not to have the chief executive job. Mick can do it great - he's a great chief executive, I'll work alongside Mick."

Glencore had revised its offer for Xstrata shares upwards under pressure from a major Xstrata shareholder, the Qatar sovereign wealth fund. The offer ratio was increased, Glasenberg put forward as the new CEO and voting on the issue of management retention payments was separated from the merger proposal.

"The yes vote for the merger is not surprising - the fact that shareholders did not support the retention packages for Xstrata management shows shareholder disaffection for large payouts to management teams," Sergey Raevskiy of London brokers SP Angel said in a note to clients after the voting.

"In this case, though, they are exposing themselves to execution risk on a number of upcoming projects where Xstrata's team have a good track record. This now paves the way for Mick Davis to take key members of his team with him to his next move."

Davis told a shareholder at last week's meeting he hadn't decided what he would do when he left in six months but it would not be retirement.

The merger, which creates the 11th-largest company by market capitalisation on the FTSE-100, with a value of US$68,5bn, still requires final approval from the SA and Chinese competition authorities.

The EU ratified it on condition Glencore sold its 7,8% stake in the world's biggest zinc producer, Nyrstar, and end its offtake agreement, thus reducing the Glencore Xstrata share of Europe's zinc market to below 40%.

Last month SA's competition commission recommended that the tribunal approve the merger subject to conditions on employment. It was concerned that 180 local jobs could be at risk, of which 80 were managerial and specialist. It recommended retrenchments be limited to the 80 highly skilled people, with a two-year moratorium on the other 100 less-skilled jobs.

The competition tribunal will hear the matter between December 10 and 14.

In a presentation in June, Glasenberg highlighted the benefits of the merger, including $500m pretax Ebitda synergies, mainly in marketing, a more diversified group, opportunities to optimise the portfolio and an ability to focus on brownfields opportunities.

London analysts quoted in the Financial Times said Glencore Xstrata was likely to consider more acquisitions, and possible targets could be Eurasian Natural Resources Corp, First Quantum, Fortescue and Anglo American. A merger with Anglo would put the group in a position to compete with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

In SA, Glencore Xstrata might also seek to extend Xstrata's stakes in Eland Platinum and the Mototolo joint venture to increase its involvement in the platinum sector. Xstrata recently proposed to Lonmin that they combine their interests in return for a bigger Xstrata stake in Lonmin. This was rejected - for now.