Former McKinsey boss Dominic Barton next chair of Rio Tinto

20 December 2021 2 min. read
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Global mining company Rio Tinto has appointed former McKinsey & Company boss Dominic Barton as its next chair, with Barton to replace the outgoing Simon Thompson in May.

The news follows shortly on the heels of Barton’s announcement that he would step down from his current role as Canada’s ambassador to China at the end of the year, having first been appointed in 2019 amid diplomatic tensions between the two nations. Australia is now navigating its own tensions with China.

The second-largest mining company in the world, Rio Tinto derives the majority of its global revenue from iron ore sales to China – the nation accounting for around 60 percent of all revenues in the first half of the year. Meanwhile, Chinese and Australian relations have steadily soured over the past two years, with China slapping heavy tariffs or sanctions on a range of Australian primary exports such as coal, barley, beef, and wine, but not iron ore, as yet.

Rio will be hoping its new appointment can keep relations smooth on its end. Barton led McKinsey & Company for three terms to 2018, first joining in Toronto in the mid-80s before relocating to Asia in 1997 – a region he would later chair for six years out of Shanghai prior to being elected as global managing partner. In addition to his diplomatic and consulting experience in the country, Barton also serves on the advisory board of China Development Bank Capital Group.

“I am delighted with the choice of Dominic, who I believe brings exactly the skills and experiences that we in Rio Tinto need,” said Jakob Stausholm, who was installed as CEO at the beginning of the year following controversies closer to home. “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.”

Those controversies – namely the company’s wilful destruction of ancient Aboriginal sacred sites at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara – have also ultimately claimed the chairmanship of Simon Thompson after widespread public outcry and pressure from investors, with Barton likely to be facing a high level of scrutiny in his new role. It won’t be the first time in his career, with the former McKinsey boss besieged by a series of scandals during his tenure.

Barton, who will take over in May, also has another big challenge ahead at the global miner. “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. “I look forward to working with Jakob and the board to implement a strategy that puts decarbonisation at the heart of the business.”