The news made headlines on Friday morning, pushing Anglo American stocks up 1.8%.
In a statement, the company said Carroll – at the helm of Anglo America since January 2007 – led the group through the global financial crisis when it achieved record profits in 2008 and again in 2011.
"The board is enormously grateful to Cynthia for her dedication, her hard work and all she has achieved."
But South African platinum analysts say Carroll's resignation is cause to celebrate.
"She has really blown it … she was probably pushed out," remarked one analyst who asked not to be named.
The key areas of unhappiness around Carroll's leadership are said to include:
- The company's underperformance relative to its peers such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale.
- A high profile dispute where Anglo American Sur, its copper mining operation in Chile, fought over assets with Codelco – Chile's state-owned mining group.
- And iron ore project in Brazil, MMX Minas-Rio, which Anglo bought into but has been plagued by delays and high costs.
- Underperformance of the company's South African operations – especially Anglo Platinum.
But, in a statement, Caroll said she was stepping down simply because the time is right to do so.
"It is a very difficult decision to leave but next year I will be entering my seventh year as chief executive and I feel that the time will be right to hand over to a successor who can build further on the strong foundations we have created," she said.
Peter Major, platinum analyst at Cadiz Corporate Solutions said although Carroll had made mistakes, she was still a positive influence.
"Cynthia made some errors – mainly embarking on big acquisitions at the top of the cycle. Still, she performed better than Xstrata," he said.
Anglo American said: "Cynthia will remain in her post until a successor has been appointed and an appropriate transition has taken place".
Important to consider, said one analyst, was the new chief executive's attitude toward the company's South African operations and whether it was viable to continue them.
The process of recruiting Carroll's successor will commence immediately and will be led by Anglo American chairperson, Sir John Parker.
In stepping down, Carroll will also relinquish her roles as chairperson of Anglo American Platinum and De Beers.