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Rio Seeks New Iron Ore Boss With Challenges to Solve

 

 

By Paul Bartholomew

September 11, 2020 - Rio Tinto is seeking a new head of iron ore after it announced on Sept. 11 that Chris Salisbury will stand down at the end of this year.

Salisbury joins Rio Tinto Chief Executive JS Jacques in leaving Australia's largest iron ore producer in response to the destruction of sacred indigenous caves at its Western Australian operations.

Rio Tinto said Ivan Vella, currently the managing director of Rail, Port & Core Services at the miner's iron ore business, will replace Salisbury on an interim basis from Dec. 31.

Investors are largely expected to support the move, as along with the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelter in May, Rio Tinto's iron ore unit was seen to be underperforming, analysts in Australia said.

The company's iron ore division accounted for around 73% of the total commodity segment EBITDA in 2019.

Rio has downgraded its iron ore shipment guidance several times, missing out on periods of high prices for the steelmaking raw material. In February this year, Rio Tinto downgraded its iron ore guidance to 324 million-334 million mt from 330 million-343 million mt in the wake of damage to its operations caused by a cyclone.

In June last year, operational issues saw Rio Tinto pare potentially 20 million mt off its 2019 guidance when it lowered the full-year outlook to 320 million-330 million mt from an earlier guidance of 338 million-350 million mt.

In the end, Rio Tinto shipped 327.4 million mt of iron ore in 2019, down 3% on the year.

The miner has an installed port capacity of 360 million mt/year at Port Hedland.

"We feel not enough has been done to deliver greater flexibility into the iron ore system, which has been running without any spare capacity," analysts at JPMorgan Chase said on Sept. 11.

JS Jacques took over from Sam Walsh as the CEO in 2016 after heading up the miner's copper and coal division. He advocated a "value over volume" mantra, interpreted by some as a veiled criticism of the big focus on expansion under previous regimes. He also stopped citing the previously-declared view that China would produce a billion tons of steel by the end of this decade -- a fact that came true some 10 years ahead of time.

Jacques, who was four years into his 10-year tenure, is not the first Rio Tinto CEO to be asked to step down. Former boss Tom Albanese resigned in early 2013 following a disastrous $14 billion writedown as a result of aluminum and metallurgical coal acquisitions.