Peter Meurs will stand down from his executive role at Fortescue Metals Group, with the iron ore miner shedding other senior executives only days after slashing capital spending plans.
Fortescue staff were told yesterday that Mr Meurs would take a two-month sabbatical as development director. It is unclear in what capacity he will return.
Hand-picked by Andrew Forrest as a potential successor for the top job, Mr Meurs defected from WorleyParsons in 2010, when Fortescue was shipping only 40 million tonnes of iron ore a year. As development director, Mr Meurs was instrumental in the company's expansion of its mines, rail and port to its current run rate.
It is understood Mr Meurs will remain a non-executive director of Fortescue and one of its biggest shareholders, with 26 million.
Staff were also told that long-time Fortescue loyalist Peter Thomas, who joined in 2005 and was also a principle architect of its infrastructure strategy, and health, safety, environment and security director Isak Buitendag would leave, along with another senior Fortescue executive.
A spokesman confirmed the departures, saying it was "part of the normal evolution of our business and not a reaction to the market environment or performance related".
"We made the decision to restructure the senior levels of the organisation in a way that will allow us to be even more flexible and adaptive moving forward," he said.
Fortescue said on Friday it would cut capital spending by $US650 million this year and that it wanted to sell some of the so-called very large ore carriers ordered at a cost of $US275 million in June from a Chinese shipyard.
Fortescue staff are bracing for job losses in the wake of the capital spending cuts, and chief executive Nev Power yesterday confirmed he expected to shed staff in the coming months.
"I'm not sure exactly of the numbers, and that will happen progressively over a couple of months because we'll . . . shut down that work at sensible places to stop it," Mr Power said.
As Fortescue announced the departure of its three key executives, Atlas Iron also cut its board and management spending.
Atlas said Allen and Overy partner Geoff Simpson and Mark Hancock would step down from its board, though Mr Hancock remains with the company as its chief commercial officer.
Atlas said all six remaining board members, including managing director Ken Brinsden, had offered to reduce their pay by 15 per cent from December 1 as part of Atlas' cost-cutting program.