Rio’s new iron rule
Incoming Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques has appointed a key coal lieutenant to run the company’s biggest money spinner, with former leadership rival and iron ore boss Andrew Harding set to depart after almost 25 years with the AngloAustralian giant.
Mr Jacques does not take over as chief executive from Sam Walsh until July 2 but has stamped his mark on the mining giant by shaking up its executive decks.
Mr Harding — Mr Walsh’s hand-picked successor as Perth-based iron ore boss — is the only major casualty of Mr Jacques’ changes, after losing the race for the chief executive’s gig to Rio’s erstwhile copper and coal boss in March.
Mr Harding will part with Rio at the same time as Mr Walsh, to be replaced by Chris Salisbury.
Until March, Mr Salisbury was the chief operating officer of Rio’s coal unit and a key member of Mr Jacques’ divisional executive committee. He was appointed acting head of its copper and coal group when Mr Jacques was named Mr Walsh’s successor.
The restructure will also see a second Perthbased executive join Rio’s executive echelon, with the appointment of Joanne Farrell as global head of health, safety, environment and communities.
Mr Harding’s departure from Rio marks a further re-shaping of the State’s iron ore sector after the exit of his BHP Billiton counterpart, Jimmy Wilson, in February.
Like BHP, which turned to Mike Henry to head its new Australian operations including iron ore, Rio has turned to its coal division for new leadership for its most important commodity at a time when the expansion era is over and a renewed focus on costcutting is required.
Mr Jacques and Mr Salisbury delivered $1 billion in free cash flow from the coal and copper division last year. Their unit was able to make the rare boast that all its assets were free cash flow positive, despite tumbling commodity prices.
Jean-Sebastien Jacques, incoming chief executive officer of Rio Tinto Group, has appointed his lieutenant from the coal group to run iron ore.