Jakob Stausholm
Rainmakers & Potstirrers

Jakob Stausholm

CEO: Rio Tinto


Get our rainmakers & potstirrers app now
‘When I started here, I took the annual report and everything was rectangular. I don’t like that. Can we have softer lines?’

JAKOB Stausholm has navigated Rio Tinto through some stormy ESG weather. Or as he describes it, a search for “softer lines” after encountering an organisation of hard edges when he first joined. The apologetic public face of Rio Tinto’s negligent destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves, sacred to Aboriginal Australians, Stausholm has also acted on a scathing report about corporate bullying which the company commissioned.

As the dust settles on these dramas, the Dane is targeting Rio’s expansion plans. Rio Tinto said in December 2023 it planned about $10bn a year in capital investments from 2024 to 2026. The focus is on the equity share of the company’s much-delayed Simandou iron ore project in Guinea. This has been plagued by legal disputes linked to its layered ownership structure. There has also been an ESG headache stemming from the blasting of a railway tunnel by a Chinese consortium in habitat for a critically endangered chimpanzee species.

Simandou is the world’s largest high-grade and untapped iron ore deposit and Rio Tinto says it remains on course to tap it. Other projects remain uncertain, including the $463m expansion plan for Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), which mines mineral-rich sands that yield zircon, rutile, iron and slag in South Africa’s restive KwaZulu-Natal province. It has been on hold for five years and counting in the face of community unrest and murderous mafias. The criminality that has bedevilled the operation has been reduced, but RBM’s bid to make community trust deeds more transparent – a flashpoint for the unrest – is still making its way through the courts.


At a towering 6 ft 7 in, Stausholm is a keen athlete with a passion for cross-country skiing and running. He has a master’s degree in economics from the University of Copenhagen. He started work at Shell (even working as a Shell petrol attendant while a student), then Maersk, the shipping company, then Rio Tinto as its CFO. He assumed the top job at Rio in January 2021 after Jean-Sébastien Jacques stepped down the wake of the Juukan Gorge caves debacle. He claims not to be “a born leader”.

More Rainmakers & Potstirrers