Rio Tinto selects new chairman after Juukan Gorge scandal

Canada’s ambassador to China will steer the company’s board from May next year.

August Graham
Monday 20 December 2021 10:39 GMT
China is the most important market for FTSE-listed Rio Tinto (Jonathan Brady/PA)
China is the most important market for FTSE-listed Rio Tinto (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Archive)

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Louise Thomas

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Rio Tinto has turned to a Canadian ambassador and veteran management consultant to lead its board as the company tries to put a scandal in Australia behind it.

The business said that Dominic Barton will join the board in April and be appointed as its chair at its annual shareholder meeting a month later.

“It is a great honour to succeed Simon as Chair of Rio Tinto. Returning to the private sector, I am excited to join a company with world-class people and assets as it navigates a shifting competitive landscape and seeks to emerge as a leader in the climate transition,” he said on Monday as the mining giant announced his appointment.

The appointment comes following a turbulent time for Rio Tinto after the business destroyed a historic site in Australia which was of large cultural importance to the indigenous population.

In the ensuing scandal Rio’s chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques stood down from his role, and chairman Simon Thompson announced he would also leave the firm.

“The tragic events at Juukan Gorge are a source of personal sadness and deep regret, as well as being a clear breach of our values as a company,” Mr Thompson said in March as he announced his departure.

He added: “As chairman, I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event.”

In a statement announcing Mr Barton’s appointment, Rio Tinto stressed his past work on corporate governance, including as the chair of Canadian miner Teck Resources and as a board member of Investor AB, the investment vehicle for one of Sweden’s most prominent business families.

“His business acumen and public sector insights position him to provide critical guidance and oversight to Rio Tinto’s leadership team during a pivotal time for the company,” it said.

However Rio will also likely see huge benefit in the former McKinsey boss’s ties to its most important market, China where it gets a majority of its revenue.

He was appointed as Canada’s ambassador to the country in 2019 and spent six years as McKinsey’s Asia chairman.

Rio chief executive Jakob Stausholm said: “I am delighted with the choice of Dominic, who I believe brings exactly the skills and experiences that we in Rio Tinto need.

“I am truly looking forward to working with Dominic in our effort to continue to strengthen Rio Tinto, in particular drawing on his wealth of experience across Asia in both a business and diplomatic capacity.

“I would like to thank Simon for his dedication to Rio Tinto and the support and counsel he has provided, and continues to provide, to me during a period of transformative change.”

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