January 17, 2013 10:23 am

New Rio chief challenges miner stereotype

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

Sam Walsh, the new chief executive of Rio Tinto, does not fit the stereotype of the typical miner.

A passionate supporter of the arts in Western Australia, where he is chairman of the state’s flagship theatre company Black Swan, the rotund 63-year-old Australian also is an avid collector of antique milk jugs.

He is reckoned to have bought more than 350 jugs from around the world over the past 15 years, which are housed in special cabinets in his Perth home.

Walsh’s passion for jugs – and his belief that artistic capital is a sign of a rich society – sets him apart from many executives in the mining industry.

It is also a far cry from his day job where he oversees the huge dumper trucks and trains that transport 250m tonnes of iron ore a year from Rio’s mines in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

But as Mr Walsh made clear in an interview with the Australia Financial Review last year, shattering images is something he is happy to do.

“People think of miners as people with pick axes and shovels, but that is no longer the case,” he told the paper.

“It is a very sophisticated, high-tech business with a lot of people who have made a lifestyle decision to work in a remote area, but who still thrive on arts and culture.”

Indeed, Rio has arguably been at the forefront of technological innovation in the mining industry, introducing driverless trucks and trains to its operations in the Pilbara.

And Mr Walsh is proud of the state-of-the-art operations centre Rio has built in Perth, which can remotely operate and manoeuvre its vast network of mines and rail systems in the Pilbara even though they are 1,500kms away.

Mr Walsh joined Rio in 1991, holding a number of positions, including chief executive of the aluminium division, before he took control of the iron ore business in 2004. Under his leadership the division has grown significantly and now accounts for more than three-quarters of Rio’s annual profits. In 2011 net earnings from the iron ore business totalled almost $13bn.

Before Rio, Mr Walsh, who has a degree in commerce from Melbourne University, spent 20 years in the automotive industry and held senior roles with General Motors and Nissan Australia.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

NEWS BY EMAIL

Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in

SHARE THIS QUOTE