The world's largest miner BHP Billiton on Wednesday said it was always thinking about succession planning but refused to comment on a report that work had started to replace chief executive Marius Kloppers.
A company spokeswoman said the miner had no specific thoughts regarding a Financial Times report that BHP chairman Jac Nasser had quietly begun the hunt for a new CEO, which could take one to two years.
But she said succession planning for the chief executive and senior management team was an on-going process and "one of the most critical tasks of any board", although she gave no timeframe.
South African Kloppers has been running the miner since October 2007, steering it through the global financial crisis.
"BHP Billiton's board has always ensured that it has a well-integrated, continual succession process in place for our most senior executives," the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
"This well-established planning process has worked effectively for many years and delivered a track record of smooth succession at the group management committee level."
Nasser has previously said that the board spent "a lot of time" discussing succession, not just for the chief executive but the management team as a whole.
"We are very fortunate to have Marius as the chief executive of the company, and he has been there for five years, and they've been five very, very successful years," Nasser said in September.
He added that he would not swap the top team at BHP Billiton for any other.
"I wouldn't swap them when the world was booming, and I certainly wouldn't swap them now because times are more difficult," he said.
Last month Kloppers 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.
Falling commodity prices saw BHP's annual net profit dive 35 percent to US$15.42 billion this year.