Rio Tinto CEO, Jacques, loses job as attention switches to qualities required of successor

Jean-Sebastien Jacques, CEO, Rio Tinto

RIO Tinto CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, will leave his job in the wake of continued investor pressure that the group step-up its response to the destruction of ancient Aboriginal heritage sites in Australia, said Bloomberg News.

Rio Tinto chairman, Simon Thompson, said it had become clear that a lack of individual responsibility for the event was standing in the way of repairing relationships with communities. “If these three individuals do not have the confidence of critical stakeholders to lead the required changes then we have got to move on,” said Thompson.

Jacques will leave once a successor is appointed or on March 31, whichever is the soonest. Head of iron ore at Rio Tinto, Chris Salisbury, and Simone Niven, group executive of corporate relations, will exit the group by year-end.

Rio Tinto had received approval to blast the area in Western Australia’s iron-ore rich Pilbara region so the blasting was legal, but it ignored a later study which pointed out the existence of rock-shelters used by Aboriginal Australians for cooking and shelter as long as 46,000-years ago. They were among the most significant of their type in the country, according to archaeologists.

Rio Tinto had acted earlier reduced the short-term bonuses of Jacques, Salisbury and Niven in 2020 by about $3.7m in total. Jacques’ long-term incentive plan award was also to be reduced by about £1m ($1.3m). But investor groups said this was insufficient sanction. “This soft touch, public relations-oriented review calls into question the suitability of every board member,” said the Australasian Corporate Centre for Responsibility in August.

Attention is now turning to Jacques’ successor. The new incumbent would require experience of Western Australia’s iron ore sector and “… an ear for community relations  and the capability to usher through complex growth projects,” Andy Forster, senior investment officer at Argo Investments, told Bloomberg News.

“It should be someone who clearly knows the business, and also knows the cultural side of things,” said Forster. “Clearly a big issue for the next few years is just going to be repairing those relationships.”

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