Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG) has announced the surprise resignation of CEO Elizabeth Gaines after four years at the helm of the Pilbara iron ore giant, as it ramps up communications around its mutation into a “vertically integrated green energy and resources group”.

It will end her run at the helm of the iron ore mine — a period in which it consolidated its position as the third force in the Pilbara iron ore industry, culminating in record iron ore production, profits and dividends in 2021.

Gaines will return to the FMG board as a non-executive director and be the ambassador for its green hydrogen brand.

She became FMG’s first female director in 2013 before transitioning to the role of CFO in 2017, before being named as Nev Power’s successor as CEO in November that year.

FMG’s chairman and major shareholder, WA billionaire Andrew Forrest, said the company would begin an extensive global search with Gaines to identify a replacement.

In a nod to both FMG’s and Forrest’s growing interest in green hydrogen and renewable energy projects, the company said it had appointed Egon Zehnder to identify a CEO and other leaders with ‘exceptional skills and global experience across heavy industry, manufacturing, and renewable energy.’

“The search with Elizabeth, for a CEO and an even deeper management bench, is an enormous opportunity for a talented and visionary executive team, to continue the successful leadership of Fortescue, as we deliver on our strategy to diversify Fortescue to a renewable energy and resources company,” Dr Forrest said.

“Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) is making enormous progress and will support the decarbonisation of Fortescue through the innovation and technological development of a green fleet and the supply of green energy.”

“We are undergoing a significant transition, and I am delighted that with Elizabeth, the board is united in its vision and enthusiasm for the opportunity this presents.”

Forrest described Gaines as one of Australia’s “truly inspiring leaders”.

“We are grateful that she has accepted the critical role of ensuring the world understands that green hydrogen, green ammonia, green energy and all its products, are combined, the only practical implementable solution to global warming that can be delivered on a commercial, highly sustainable basis,” Forrest said.

“Elizabeth’s depth of character, leadership, global integrity and respect is appreciated by Fortescue’s executives and fellow directors.”

“With the new CEO our team will continue to empower Fortescue’s leadership of a commercial solution to global warming.”

Gaines said she was excited to continue in her role as a director and with Fortescue’s GH2 grand.

““We are committed to our goal of achieving carbon neutrality for Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030, and I am excited to continue to play a part in delivering on these important strategic objectives,” she said.

“At the heart of Fortescue is its people and our unique culture and values. Our commitment to operational excellence and our leading ESG credentials is second to none.”

“I look forward to continuing to work with the talented team across the business as we grow and diversify.

The announcement about Gaines’ departure was coupled with a declaration that FMG was transitioning from a “pure resources company to a vertically integrated green energy and resources group.”

Among the hundreds of billions of dollars seemingly committed by Forrest in green energy initiatives, FMG this week announced plans to undertake a green hydrogen feasibility study with AGL at its retiring Liddell coal plant, the testing of two four-stroke locomotives on a green fuel blend and a “cooperation agreement” to explore green hydrogen developments in Indonesia’s North Kalimantan province.

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