Rio Tinto appoints Jakob Stausholm as new CEO and pledges to ‘restore confidence’

On Thursday, the mining giant appointed Chief Financial Officer Jakob Stausholm CEO. Stausholm will take over the role on January 1, the same day that outgoing CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques will step down.

Jacques resigned under investor pressure in September over the company’s destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous site in Australia. It demolished the Juukan Gorge Caves in Western Australia in May to expand an iron ore mine.

The decision to blow up the site had met with a seven-year struggle by the land’s local administrators, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, to protect it.

Rio Tinto later apologized for the incident and its chairman Simon Thompson admitted, “What happened at Juukan was wrong.”

The company also cut bonuses for Jacques and two other senior executives, totaling £ 3.8 million ($ 5 million).
Rio Tinto CEO resigns following the destruction of the 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous site

But it didn’t immediately fire executives, leading to more backlash.

Investor groups accused Rio Tinto of not taking full responsibility for the demolition of the caves, which had significant archaeological value and deep cultural significance to Aboriginal people. For example, the two rock shelters contain artifacts that indicate tens of thousands of years of uninterrupted human habitation.

Some politicians have since called for restitution.

Last week, a research panel from Northern Australia’s Joint Standing Committee found that Rio Tinto should pay reparations to Indigenous Australians. It described the destruction of the caves as “inexcusable” but did not specify a suggested amount.

UBS analysts noted that the committee’s report was not government policy, writing in an investigation note on Wednesday that “unilateral action is unlikely.” However, they added that Rio Tinto “is likely to pay compensation” for the incident.

In a statement on Thursday, Stausholm acknowledged the challenge ahead and acknowledged “the difficult times we have been through in 2020”.

“I am also well aware of the need to restore trust with traditional owners and our other stakeholders, which I see as a top priority for the company,” added the new CEO, referring to the land’s local managers.

Rio’s share in London rose 1.9% on Thursday after the news. Shortly before the announcement, shares in Sydney had risen 1.8%.

Angus Watson, Laura He and Sandi Sidhu contributed to this report.