Rio Tinto board must admit mistakes to rebuild standing

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With operations in more than 35 countries and revenue in the tens of billions of dollars, the world’s second-biggest mining company, Rio Tinto, has come a long way since its formation in the 1870s when a group of investors bought the rights to a rich mineral site in the south-west of Spain.

It’s a company that has had its fair share of financial and management upheavals over the decades, but when it comes to reputational damage, the destruction in May of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge heritage rock shelter in Western Australia was one its biggest faux pas. While the company’s board finally took decisive action last Friday – removing chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two deputies – there is clearly still some way to go.

The structural issues that led to the blasting of the ancient site appear years in the making. A federal parliamentary inquiry into the incident heard late last month how the mining company had centralised power in the group’s London headquarters.

Bruce Harvey, who ran Rio’s global community and Indigenous relations until 2013, told the inquiry Mr Jacques transferred his role to London after becoming CEO in 2016, and diluted the role of individual mine site leaders. And Glynn Cochrane, an adviser at Rio until 2015, explained that Rio had sidelined anthropologists and archaeologists from Aboriginal relations in recent years and had instead hired people with more of a focus on “branding, marketing and media”.

There have always been tensions between the London-dominated board of Rio Tinto and the Australians who managed the operations that generated the overwhelming bulk of the group’s earnings. Despite the board including three Australians, Mr Jacques’ restructure was only going to exacerbate the situation, and leave it exposed to operational risks.

A Global Asset Management Seoul Korea Magazine

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