Andrew Forrest’s optimistic view of the mining industry is undoubtedly one of his most noticeable traits.
This optimism has driven the growth of Fortescue Metals Group from an ambitious exploration and development company in 2003 to the world’s fourth largest iron ore producer today.
It is what has made ‘Twiggy’ one of the most well-known and enduring personalities in Australian mining. And it is one reason why he has been honoured with the Liebherr Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 Australian Mining Prospect Awards.
As Fortescue’s inaugural chairman, then chief executive officer and now chairman once more, Forrest has guided the company into a powerhouse of the Pilbara.
The Perth-based company today produces 170 million tonnes of iron ore a year from its Pilbara mine sites. Its focus on productivity and improving efficiencies has helped it become the lowest cost seaborne provider of iron ore into China.
Forrest’s achievements as Fortescue’s leader have, however, covered a number of areas important to mining.
For all of the company’s economic and operational successes, he most fondly speaks of the achievements that have helped increase diversity and improve the public perception of the industry.
“We employ almost 15 per cent Indigenous people (and) a good quarter of our ranks are women,” Forrest explains by video recording at the Prospect Awards gala dinner.
“In leadership, I think we are still one of the only major companies with half or more than half women on our board.
“It is not because women are better than men. They certainly aren’t, right? We are equal with opportunity and talent but those talents are so different.
“If you don’t have those different talents coming on to your board, you are going to go monologue – you are going to think in a monologue. That would be dangerous.”
Fortescue appointed its first female CEO, Elizabeth Gaines, in February. Five of its nine board members are currently female.
In addition to a workforce that is 15 per cent Indigenous Australian, the company provides considerable support for Aboriginal businesses throughout its supply chain.
Fortescue introduced the Billion opportunities program in 2011. Since the program’s inception, the company has awarded 270 contracts and sub-contracts worth $2 billion to 110 Aboriginal-owned businesses and joint ventures.
Forrest’s aforementioned achievements already mean he has a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments to speak of, but it’s obvious he wants to grow this list even further.
He has his sights on a long-term, sustainable future for mining where the importance of the industry is recognised by the next generation of Australians.
“Let’s not think about that short-term dollar,” he says. “Let’s think like that little boy at two or three years old. One day he is going to be 18. One day he or she will be able to make a great contribution.”
Forrest wants the industry to tell its positive story to the wider community and make sure it understands the massive contribution mining makes to Australia.
“Let’s remove any argument that we are not environmentally friendly, environmentally neutral and environmentally sustainable,” Forrest says.
“Let’s remove the fact that we don’t employ a huge proportion of Indigenous people. Let’s continue to be Australia’s leaders of employing Indigenous people, and let’s continue to set the world straight by bringing women into our ranks.
“They are equal, they are so fantastic and they have done wonders for Fortescue. Let’s make sure that we become the most diverse industry in the world.”
Despite Forrest’s optimism for mining, there is another passion that trumps this commitment to the industry – his family.
Forrest was unable to make the trip across the Nullarbor to accept his Prospect Awards honour, instead delivering an inspiring pre-recorded speech to the crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) by video.
His son, Sydney, was studying for his final school exam at the time. And like many teenagers, Sydney studies harder when his father is at home.
“He is about to leave school, and even though I make the worst tea and I am barely welcome in the house, there is just a little fact that if dad is in the house, Syd does more study. If dad is not in the house, Syd does a lot less study,” Forrest says.
“I am kind of chained to my home for the next few days and for that reason I’d like you to forgive me for not being there.”
Not to worry, Andrew, we forgive you.