The world’s second largest mining company yesterday appointed a woman chief executive for the first time in its 89-year history.

Cynthia Carroll, aged 49, will join the board of Anglo American in January and succeed Tony Trahar as chief executive on March 1.

The American will take over the running of the London firm, which owns Wolverhampton-based Tarmac, after 18 years in the aluminium industry with Alcan, including five as president and chief executive of its primary metals arm.

The appointment took the City by surprise as it is also the first time that Anglo has appointed an outsider to the top job.

It made Ms Carroll only the third female chief executive of a FTSE 100 Index company, joining Dame Marjorie Scardino of publishing group Pearson and Dorothy Thompson of Drax Group.

Ms Carroll will be paid a basic salary of #900,000 a year and receive a maximum bonus of #1.575 million, or 175 per cent of her salary.

Anglo chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart said Ms Carroll had a very strong track record of improving operational performance.

"The board have been impressed by her clear leadership and communication skills, her highly relevant hands-on operational experience and of her record of working with governments and other key stakeholders," he said.

Anglo is restructuring, spinning off paper and packaging business Mondi and cutting its 42 per cent stake in gold producer AngloGold Ashanti as it focuses on industrial metal production.

The decision to focus on industrial metals came after the price of copper and zinc hit record highs last year.

The company is now seen as a takeover target, with recent speculation linking it with Russian aluminium firm RusAl as well as London-listed rivals Rio Tinto and Xstrata.

Higher metal prices and the possibility of a takeover have seen shares in Anglo more than double in the last 18 months to value it at #3.65 billion.

Anglo was founded in Johannesburg in 1917 by Ernest Oppenheimer to exploit the world’s biggest gold field, but it now operates in over 60 countries.

"It’s an honour to take the helm at Anglo American," said Ms Carroll.

"A great deal has been achieved in recent years and the company is on course to realise the next stage of its strategy of becoming a focused mining group and global leader in the metals and mining industry.

"It has an impressive project pipeline and enormous potential for growth and value creation."