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Freeport's Kathleen Quirk becomes CEO as global copper demand surges

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By Ernest Scheyder

June 11 (Reuters) -Copper giant Freeport-McMoRan FCX.N officially installed Kathleen Quirk as its next CEO on Tuesday, making her the highest-ranking woman ever in the mining industry at a time of surging demand for the red metal used across the global economy.

The move, first announced in February, occurred during the company's annual shareholder meeting. The mining industry has been working aggressively to attract more women, especially as copper and other critical minerals are seen as crucial in the fight against climate change.

"I hope that being in this role can inspire other women," Quirk, 60, told Reuters. "We're seeing more and more women join our industry and build their careers over time and lead."

Quirk, who has worked closely with outgoing CEO Richard Adkerson since joining the Phoenix-based company in 1989, said the company's strategy will largely remain unchanged by focusing on internal growth projects, especially leaching technologies that Freeport estimates could boost copper production by 100 million pounds annually.

Freeport does not need to buy another copper company to grow but would not be opposed to one, Quirk said.

There have been a flurry of proposed deals in the copper industry. BHP BHP.AX made an unsuccessful $49 billion offer for rival Anglo American AAL.L this year in a play for its smaller rival's copper mines.

"If there are opportunities out there that would make sense for our shareholders ... we would certainly be interested to look at them," Quirk said. "But it's not something we have to do, and we think we can create value for shareholders with our current strategy."

The company's stock is up 17% this year amid a similar rise in copper prices CMCU3. Fourteen analysts recommend buying the company's stock and none recommend selling, according to LSEG Workspace data.

Quirk noted Freeport was not looking to make a deal in 2007 when it bought larger rival Phelps Dodge for $26 billion, a deal that made it the world's largest publicly traded copper producer.

Citing a longstanding policy of not discussing specific companies, Quirk declined to comment when asked if Freeport was interested in acquiring smaller rival First Quantum FM.TO, which faces opposition to its Panama operations.

Freeport operates across the U.S., Spain, Chile, Peru and Indonesia, including Grasberg, the world's second-largest copper mine.

"We have a pipeline for future growth," said Quirk. "There's this mood of innovation that we're pushing on to find ways to get more out of the assets."

Quirk said she plans on continuing Adkerson's direct outreach to the leaders of Indonesia, Chile and Peru. Elsewhere, Freeport is interested in expanding its nascent copper recycling business, she said.

"It's going to require some other things besides mine supply to supply the market if these scenarios play for rising global copper demand," said Quirk.

Also on Tuesday, Freeport's shareholders re-elected all 12 members of the company's board, including Quirk, who is also on the board of aggregate supplier Vulcan Materials VMC.N, and Adkerson, who will stay on as chairman.

Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by David Gregorio


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