(Bloomberg Opinion) — Rio Tinto Group may choose to play it safe in its next choice of chief executive officer. With Jean-Sebastien Jacques heading for the exit after the destruction of a sacred Aboriginal site, Australian politicians are also piling on pressure for a local to be given the role.
The mining giant should resist the temptation of an old-school solution. Jacques’s successor will certainly have to rebuild Rio’s credibility after the spectacular failure at Juukan Gorge.
Repairing frayed community and government relations will be among the first tasks. It won’t be enough to pick a veteran technocrat for CEO, though, as miners did after the mistakes of the last boom.
He or she won’t be able to repeat the trick that saw French-born J-S, as he is widely known, hand back billions to shareholders. The new boss will have to show Rio understands the iron ore business, which accounts for more than 90% of earnings and where prices are softening.
Longer-term reconstruction will also involve resolving large, troublesome projects in Guinea and Mongolia, and positioning the company for greener growth. A steady hand on the tiller, while necessary, won’t be sufficient.
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