* CEO Cutifani's strategic skills questioned in some quarters
* Anglo to focus on internal candidates -company source
By Clara Denina and Barbara Lewis
LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Anglo American has promoted a section head it considers to have CEO potential, focusing its attention on internal talent as it begins searching for a successor to the man who steered the mining company through the 2015-16 commodities price slump.
CEO Mark Cutifani has won plaudits for his stewardship since taking the helm in 2013, though his strategic ability has been questioned in some quarters despite Anglo shares climbing around 12 percent last year, outperforming London-listed peers including Glencore and Rio Tinto.
Analysts say that Cutifani deserves credit for driving efficiency but some remain critical of a decision to halt debt-reducing asset disposals, even though this helped the company to benefit from the upturn in prices for commodities such as iron ore and coal.
Company sources say Cutifani is happy to stay beyond his 2020 mandate and that shareholders are not against the idea, but they added that newly promoted Duncan Wanblad is regarded as a potential successor.
Anglo American declined to comment.
Wanblad was named early this month as group director of strategy and business development, effective from March, having held the dual role of base metals business leader and business development director since 2013.
"Strategically, Anglo has had a couple of U-turns and is perceived as a little weak in this area," said Ian Woodley, portfolio manager at Old Mutual Investment Group, which holds Anglo shares. "That is probably one of the reasons they brought in Duncan Wanblad as a full-time strategist."
The company sources said the board would also consider external candidates, though no formal process has started and the internal candidates are convincing.
"You would need a very strong external one to compete for the role of next CEO; otherwise you risk losing too many people internally," Woodley said.
Other possible internal candidates include finance chief Stephen Pearce, bulk commodities boss Seamus French and Bruce Cleaver, CEO of the De Beers diamond business, the sources said.
"I would see it as a two-horse race at this stage between Duncan Wanblad and Stephen Pearce," said Bernstein analyst Paul Gait.
Reporting by Clara Denina and Barbara Lewis Editing by David Goodman