LEADERS SURVEY: Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO Simon Trott opens up on the value of figuring it out for yourself

Adrian Rauso
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Rio Tinto's Chief Executive, Iron Ore Simon Trott.
Rio Tinto's Chief Executive, Iron Ore Simon Trott. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott believes China’s time may soon be up, but lessons in self-learning leaves the wheat farmer turned mining industry heavyweight optimistic about the challenges facing Australia.

“The best advice undoubtedly came from my family and parents. Growing up, the best lesson was sometimes by them not actually giving me a view, instead forcing me to work it out and learn for myself,” Mr Trott told The Nightly for its exclusive Leaders Survey.

From humble beginnings at Wickepin — about 2.5 hours southeast of Perth — the leadership guidance bestowed upon him by his family evolved as he embarked on a career at Rio Tinto.

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“Early in my (Rio Tinto) career a boss told me to seek out and listen to as many people as I could, but then to walk away and form my own view,” he said.

“Ultimately, you are the only person that can find the answer that works for you.”

Mr Trott has led the mining giant’s most profitable division. since 2021 and will have to hone his self-belief to find answers to big questions hanging over his industry.

Trifecta challenge

Australia’s modern prosperity has been steadily driven by China’s seemingly insatiable demand for iron ore as a steelmaking input.

But Mr Trott is aware the nation’s iron ore industry will have to adapt to survive in the face of three significant global macroeconomic trends he thinks about “a lot”.

“China’s steel demand is nearing a structural peak, the world is decarbonising, and societies expectations of businesses are increasing,” he said.

“The world needs our commodities to decarbonise, however perspectives towards big business and mining are changing.

“Only the companies that can navigate this complexity will survive.”

Mr Trott says Australia’s mining industry is world class, built over decades through a combination of hard work, innovation, and sound policy.

“Sustaining this will ensure we can create new and exciting opportunities for future generations, including some we can’t predict today.”

He points to the Rio Tinto’s proposed Rhodes Ridge project in the east Pilbara of WA – set to be one of the largest developments in Australian mining history - as a case in point.

“We are investing in research and development projects to ensure Pilbara iron ores are well positioned for green steel, so a project like Rhodes Ridge can help to secure our long-term future.”

Rio has been bullish about the potential for Rhodes Ridge to play a big part in the rapid industrialisation of India and Southeast Asia.

Embrace the discomfort

The country’s mining industry – and economy by extension – is at a crucial juncture, but Mr Trott is optimistic about the uncertainty it brings.

“Think of what we are living through – we are witnessing large parts of the industrial economies being reshaped,” he said.

“The world is moving away from the internal combustion engine, probably the greatest creator of productivity and wealth in human history, this will require massive amounts of commodities and renewable energy.

“We are blessed with both, and our mining industry is the envy of the world. In my view, this has the potential to create incredible opportunities for Australia.”

Another leadership lesson I have learnt (and sometimes had to re-learn!) is that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Mr Trott is acutely aware the big decisions for Rio’s powerhouse division in this fast-changing environment rests on his shoulders, but he wants the opinions from colleagues that shape his leadership to be as diverse as possible.

“One test of the culture you are building is if a minority view around the table has the chance to become the majority,” he said.

“Are people open to putting diverse views on the table and sitting in the discomfort of the debate?

“Another leadership lesson I have learnt (and sometimes had to re-learn!) is that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

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