Ground Breakers: How ‘aboot’ that, Rio goes Canadian for new chairman and St Barbara swallows Bardoc Gold
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Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) has resisted pressure from its home country to pick a new locally-based chairman, appointing former McKinsey partner Dominic Barton to lead the mining giant’s board.
A Canadian born in Uganda, Barton has been chosen to replace Englishman Simon Thompson, despite calls from within Australia to appoint a local chair in the wake of the Juukan Gorge scandal.
A former chair of Canada’s Teck Resources, Barton was at McKinsey for 30 years including nine as global managing partner and six as Asia chairman, and brings strong links with the Pilbara iron ore miner’s biggest market in China, having been Canada’s ambassador there since 2019.
His appointment comes after Thompson announced he would not continue in the role earlier this year, falling on his sword after the resignations of CEO J-S Jacques, external affairs head Simone Niven and iron ore boss Chris Salisbury after the company blew up 46,000 year old Aboriginal rock caves and artefacts in a blast at its Brockman 4 operations last year.
That prompted outrage, a federal inquiry and damaged the miner’s ties with traditional owners as well as its respect with Australian and international investors, whose revolt ultimately brought about the resignations of the scandal’s key figures.
“It is a great honour to succeed Simon as Chair of Rio Tinto. Returning to the private sector, I am excited to join a company with world-class people and assets as it navigates a shifting competitive landscape and seeks to emerge as a leader in the climate transition,” Barton said in a statement by Rio Tinto.
“I look forward to working with Jakob and the Board to implement a strategy that puts decarbonisation at the heart of the business and positions Rio Tinto to be a leader in addressing complex global problems, while building and sustaining trust with host communities.”
Juukan Gorge didn’t get a mention in the statement, but there were some generic comments about building trust, ESG standards, change and decarbonisation from the company, Barton, new Rio CEO Jakob Stausholm and “independent directors” Simon McKeon and Sam Laidlaw, who led the selection process.
“I am truly looking forward to working with Dominic in our effort to continue to strengthen Rio Tinto, in particular drawing on his wealth of experience across Asia in both a business and diplomatic capacity,” Stausholm said.
“I would like to thank Simon for his dedication to Rio Tinto and the support and counsel he has provided, and continues to provide, to me during a period of transformative change.”
St Barbara (ASX:SBM) has been desperate for ounces to support the extension of its Leonora gold operations in recent years, and the Gwalia gold mine owner has found its first big fish in Kalgoorlie-region gold explorer Bardoc Gold (ASX:BDC).
Bardoc is one of the WA gold industry’s hard luck stories, having made preparations to develop a major 100,000ozpa plus gold project centred around its Zoroastrian and Aphrodite deposits, only to suspend plans to develop it thanks to a cost blowout this year.
Bardoc boasts a measured, indicated and inferred Mineral Resource of 54.6Mt at 1.8g/t Au for 3.07Moz of contained gold, with 8.4Mt at 3.7g/t Au for 988,000oz of underground ounces.
It has 15.87Mt at 2g/t for 1.01Moz in ore reserves, including 3.14Mt at the Aphrodite underground at 3.4g/t and 839,000t at 3.6g/t underground at Zoroastrian.
The acquisition appears at first glance to be a back up option for St Barbs, which failed in its efforts to acquire closer neighbour Kin Mining (ASX:KIN) earlier this year.
But the addition of Aphrodite could be significant for the Gwalia gold mine owner, which is looking to increase the capacity of the processing plant at its flagship mine from 1.4Mtpa to 2.1Mtpa with the introduction of a refractory processing circuit designed for milling ores like Aphrodite’s and its self-owned Harbour Lights deposit.
“The location of the Bardoc Gold Project, situated near the rail line and highway to the south of Leonora, brings the Bardoc ore bodies within economic haulage range of our Leonora processing plant,” St Barbara boss Craig Jetson said.
“Combined with our existing regional opportunities such as Tower Hill and Harbour Lights, the acquisition of Bardoc facilitates the accelerated delivery of a multi-decade province of satellite mines feeding the Leonora processing plant.
“This provides St Barbara with significant operating flexibility and value as part of the Leonora Province Plan.
“We want to acknowledge the excellent work by the Bardoc team to assemble this impressive land position and progressing the Bardoc Gold Project to this point.”
Bardoc Gold is led by chairman Tony Leibowitz and directors Neil Biddle and John Young, a team with a heap of gravitas in the exploration industry following their roles in the early days of lithium giant Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS).
They will continue on with the spinout of Bardoc’s South Woodie Woodie Manganese project, a “battery metals-focused company led by one of the most experienced corporate teams in Australia with a proven track record in value-creation.”
Leibowitz called the St Barbara merger an attractive transaction offering shareholders exposure to growth in both gold and battery metals.
“We undertook the review in light of the significant challenges confronting Bardoc as a junior developer aiming to bring a new project on stream in the face of cost pressures in the WA resource sector,” he said.
“The Board made the courageous decision to halt our development activities and consider alternative strategic pathways for our cornerstone asset, and we believe this was the right call for our shareholders.”
“The transaction we have secured with St Barbara is an excellent outcome which will deliver ownership of the Bardoc Gold Project to a much larger company with the balance sheet strength, resources and technical capability to bring the Project into production through its Leonora gold operations.”
“In addition to creating a liquidity event, the transaction delivers a healthy premium and will give our shareholders approximately 13% per cent ownership of an enlarged St Barbara – providing exposure to a much larger, diversified international gold producer with operating assets and a strong development pipeline in Australia, PNG and Canada,” Leibowitz said.
We believe there is excellent potential for a future market re-rating and value uplift.”
St Barbara will offer 0.3604 SBM shares for every Bardoc share, valuing the junior at 53c a share — a 29.2% premium to its last closing price and 34.7% premium to its 30-day VWAP of 39.3c, giving St Barbara shareholders 87% of the merged entity.
The scheme is expected to be implemented in April next year.