Fortescue executive chairman Andrew Forrest has hinted that the shock exit of the miner’s chief executive Fiona Hick was linked to them not seeing eye to eye on the company’s green road map.
Hick’s departure, announced on Monday, came just under six months from her appointment at the helm of Fortescue.
Speaking at a conference in Perth on Wednesday, Forrest suggested that he and Hick did not agree on how to best help the company hit its aggressive target of zero emissions by 2030.
“All I can say is that people evolve [and] there is a difference between where they’re going and the whole mission of the company before anyone joined,” he said. “You might want to take it a different direction, like put a handbrake on going green.”
Forrest, the founder of Fortescue and Australia’s richest man, added that Hick – a 22-year veteran with gas producer Woodside before joining the iron ore miner in February – had not been asked to leave.
“People just simply make their own choices,” he said.
The announcement of Hick’s exit coincided with Fortescue posting a net profit of $US5.5 billion ($8.5 billion) for fiscal 2023, along with an unexpected $US726 million ($1.1 billion) writedown at its troubled Iron Bridge magnetite operation.
The writedown dragged the company’s underlying profit down to $US4.8 billion ($7.4 billion).
Fortescue shares were punished on the day, falling 5 per cent and wiping about $3 billion off the miner’s books.
With Hick joining a growing list of senior executives leaving Fortescue, Forrest on Wednesday said the easy decision for the board of a “normal” company would have been to stick with Hick for a few years to avoid bad media coverage.
However, he said given the scale of Fortescue’s green ambitions, a “massive company in transition” would inevitably lose senior executives and needed to “fail fast” and move on.
The billionaire also dismissed a suggestion that the exodus of executives who disagreed with the direction he wanted Fortescue to follow would lead to a lack of dissenting voices at the company.
“I speak last, so everyone has an equal say, they’re not influenced by what I might think, and it works super well,” Forrest said.
Hick’s departure came after a busy weekend for Forrest and his $66 billion company, with a 20th anniversary party in the Pilbara on Saturday attended by 700 people.
Hick was at the party and the board agreed on her departure on Sunday. Former operations officer Dino Otranto was announced as her replacement on Monday.
The rate of change delayed the release of the annual report with the full-year financial results on Monday. When it appeared later that morning, Otranto was prominent and Hick’s tenure had been reduced to a small statement.
Fortescue’s other chief executive Mark Hutchinson, who heads up the green energy business, was left to explain the convulsions to investment analysts and the media – supported by the freshly installed Otranto.
On Wednesday, Forrest opened an Australian meeting of the Chinese-focussed Boao Forum focused on clean energy with a call for governments to enact tougher climate policies.
“It is business which is causing global warming, it’s business which will kill your children, it is business which is responsible for lethal humidity, but it’s policies which drive business,” he said
“It’s the biggest greenwash in the world to blame in the public,” he said. Hick’s media representative did not respond to a request for comment.
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