Sam Walsh has anointed Rio Tinto's copper division boss to succeed him as Perth-based head of the mining giant's most important unit, iron ore.
Andrew Harding is expected to relocate to Perth from London in coming weeks to take up the helm of a division that accounts for about 80 per cent of the miner's global profits.
Mr Harding, who joined Rio in 1992 and has previously spent time working in the iron ore business, has been in charge of the copper division for the past 3 ½ years. He also sits on Rio's executive committee.
His appointment will make Mr Harding one of the most high profile and powerful executives in WA, and Australia, presiding over a business that makes about $7 billion in annual profit and employs about 15,000 people, mostly in the Pilbara.
It is unclear whether Mr Harding's appointment as chief executive Rio Tinto Iron Ore will trigger a broader reshuffle within the division's senior ranks.
Several of the iron ore's executive team, led by operations boss Greg Lilleyman, were seen as candidates to succeed Mr Walsh.
The appointment of Mr Harding is the first big move announced by Mr Walsh since he became Rio's managing director last month following the sacking of Tom Albanese.