7 top mining leaders share their secrets to success

Mining engineer underground inspecting piece of rock

What does it take to be successful in mining? We’ve collated firsthand advice from some of mining’s biggest names. Here’s what they had to say.

What does it take to be successful in mining? We’ve collated firsthand advice from some of mining’s biggest names.


Here’s what they had to say.

Put in a little bit more and be enthusiastic

We get very few public pronouncements from Hancock Prospecting Executive Chairman Gina Rinehart, but in 2018 she gave Australians an insight into what it takes to be successful.


The gist? There aren’t any “magic secrets”, just hard work.


“Put in a bit more, always be enthusiastic to get extra work, work later, take less lunch breaks, get it done and do it responsibly,” she said.


Rinehart was actually talking to Commonwealth Games athletes at the time, but it’s a good indication of her philosophy. What does that look like for her, at the helm of Hancock Prospecting?


“There is no typical day,” she told the Australian Financial Review in a rare interview in 2018.


“Sometimes, if I am sleeping oddly, I might be working at three or four or five or six in the morning, so it really depends on what is on. Sometimes there’s a bit more on than at other times.”

Empower employees with encouragement and accountability

Another of the biggest names in mining (and these days in business generally) is Fortescue Metals Group founder Andrew Forrest. In 2014 he told the Financial Times the key to sound management was “empowering employees, faith, encouragement and accountability”. 


“You won’t achieve anything off the strength of your own bat and your own intellect,” he said. “You are going to achieve it on the basis of having a small group of men and women completely impassioned and empowered to achieve what looks totally unrealistic.”


Another great tip from the same interview: “We always operate with a plan B”.

Have one eye on the future

Fortescue Metals is Australia’s fourth largest iron ore miner and, under CEO Elizabeth Gaines’ stewardship, its output continues to grow. But will iron ore always be FMG’s core business?


In 2020 Gaines told the ABC she was leading the company’s push to diversify its portfolio.


“It’s taking what we already do and having a forward view and a vision to what the future might look like,” she said.


“If we can identify the right opportunity, there’s no reason we can’t replicate the success for Fortescue and iron ore in another commodity.


“I have that vision and think not about what the market looks like today, but what the market might look like in another decade’s time.

“I’m not scared by change — I think some people find change very confronting, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I haven’t been confronted by change at various times. But how you respond to change, I think, is critical.”

Know your strengths and weaknesses

Pilbara Minerals Managing Director and CEO Ken Brinsden knows a thing or two about delivering projects and successfully stewarding a mining company — all the way from junior explorer to producer.


In an interview for Curtin University in 2016 he said successful people in mining focused more on delivering results than on their own career progression. Results, he said, get noticed — and then career progression looks after itself.


But he didn’t stop there.


“I can’t stress enough how important that emotional intelligence is,” he said.


“Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, and being able to see them in others, is crucial to leadership and building successful teams.”

Create the space for innovation as part of your culture

Long-time IAMGOLD President and CEO Steve Letwin, who is now at Mancal Corporation, told Mines and Technology the secret to success was empowering extraordinary performance. He also had particular thoughts on innovation.


“Innovation isn’t necessarily just about spending money on costly new technologies; it’s also about finding new ways to solve problems,” he said. “It’s a state of mind.


“We encourage our employees to work safely, think creatively and innovate free of unnecessary restrictions.


“Cultivating a strong company culture has been an important aspect of our current successes and ensures we’re doing everything possible to make gold an attractive investment.”

Don’t just encourage your team to speak up; go speak to your team

Former Newmont Mining CEO Gary Goldberg’s motto is “respect the past, invent the future, and enjoy the journey”.


That’s great advice for any leader in business, but it’s his approach to team communications — as explained to futurist Jacob Morgan in 2020 — which makes our motivational list.


“It’s not enough to have a title — leaders need to live their vision and values, encourage people to speak up, and listen to what they say,” he said.


Goldberg would regularly have lunch with small groups of his employees, where he would ask them, among other things, what they had done to add value for Newmont that morning.


“I get some really neat answers and learn a lot about what’s going on in the business, but it’s that personal contact where they get to see that you’re a human being and you listen to what’s important to them that really helps to build trust,” he said.

Remember, you’re not there to make up the numbers

In 2017, after he’d stepped down as CEO of Rio Tinto, Sam Walsh told the Australian Financial Review about his approach to delivering in any role.


“If I can give high experience and knowledge and context and networks and what have you, I can actually make a difference,” he said.


“I’m not attending these [board meetings] just for the sake of making the numbers at the end of the day. I will be controversial. I will rock the boat. I will make a difference. That’s why I am there.”


Mining People International has more than 25 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies uncover the best candidates for their executive and leadership roles. Find out more about our executive search service here or get in touch directly.


Dan Hatch
Mining People International