Heavy Metal

With the world's thirst for natural resources unquenchable, the big money has moved to mining deals

, The American Lawyer

Dealmakers of the Year:
Mergers & Acquisitions:
Nigel Boardman, Slaughter and May

It's the golden rule: He who has the gold rules. Add silver, copper, tin, nickel, aluminum, iron ore and just about any other mineral to that list, and you'd have a good description of the international dealmaking environment in 2007. It was a year in which the most intense M&A activity occurred outside the United States and some of the most sought-after strategic targets were natural resources companies. The exemplar: Anglo Australian mining giant BHP Billiton's stalking of its main rival, Rio Tinto Group. BHP's initial approach to Rio Tinto was revealed in November 2007; by February its hostile offer had been sweetened to just under $192.8 billion.

Taking center stage in the legal strategizing behind BHP's bid is Slaughter and May's Nigel Boardman, one of London's best-known rainmakers. An adviser to the mining company since he advised BHP on its 2001 merger with Billiton, Boardman, 57, also counts Anglo Dutch oil major Royal Dutch Shell plc and Arsenal Football Club (his sports team of choice) among his clients.

Despite his glittering deals portfolio, Boardman places the battle for Rio Tinto at the top. "It's a fascinating deal, in a class of its own," he says. "Both the target and the bidder are domesticated in two different countries, so it's a truly cross-border deal." If successful, the deal would be the first merger between two dual-listed companies. (Like BHP, Rio Tinto is headquartered both in the United Kingdom and Australia, and both companies have primary listings on the London and Sydney stock exchanges.)

With China's seemingly insatiable appetite driving demand for raw materials around the world, the mining sector is hotter than ever. In early 2008 merger talks were revealed between Anglo Swiss mining company Xstrata plc and Brazilian rival Companhia Vale do Rio Doce. For rainmakers cowering from the credit crunch, it's time to reach for the hard hats.