Special Report: In Barry FitzGerald’s new regular column, True Width, he sits down with Australia’s leading resource and mining bosses to discuss their current projects and plans for the future.

This week Barry talks with Nicole Duncan, managing director of NickelSearch (ASX:NIS).

NickelSearch managing director Nicole Duncan traces her interest in mining and commodity markets back to her childhood when she would listen to the chatter of World Bank economists sitting around her family dinner table.

The economists were guests of her parents, with her economist father having landed a job with the bank which took the family to Washington DC when Canberra born Duncan was eight.

”I grew up there and it’s where my relationship with international trade and developing economies started because this was the 1980s, and I am pretty sure that Mum and Dad weren’t any different to others at the time in that instead going out to dinner, it was all about having people to dinner at home.’’

“So I grew up with World Bank economists over for dinner talking about coffee, coal and sugar, and oil and gas, iron ore and tin. It started my appreciation of mining,’’ Duncan said.


Starting off big

Ahead of spearheading NickelSearch and its hunt for nickel sulphides at its advanced Carlingup project 20kms east of Ravensthorpe in Western Australia, Duncan had a long career with BHP and then its 2015 spin-off South32, after first graduating in law and history from ANU and working 2 years for the law firm Ashurst.

“I was only at Ashurst for 2 years as I was sent off on secondment to BHP in 1999 and never returned because I liked it at BHP so much,’’ Duncan said.

American Paul Anderson was BHP’s MD at the time. He led a much needed “fix-up and clean-up’’ phase at the company which eventually led to BHP’s 2001 merger with the London-based Billiton in a dual listed company structure.

Duncan recalls the excitement at BHP when Chip Goodyear, another American who was BHP’s chief financial officer at the time and who later went on to become BHP MD, gathered the troops to plan the DLC merger.

“I still remember the meeting where Chip got all the BHP people together because we were considering a DLC merger with a company called Billiton and we needed to do due diligence on this Billiton entity,’’ Duncan recalls.

“It was an amazing experience to work on the transaction itself and then the implementation of the merger. I worked on the implementation post the merger for two years in one form or another.’’

Duncan’s time at BHP included supporting the minerals exploration team, and both legal and non-legal roles including stints in The Hague, Singapore and Houston.  Then Duncan was one of four executives that led South32 following its demerger in 2015 from BHP, first as its chief legal officer and company secretary, as well as later adding the human resources role.

Duncan ended up leaving South32 in July 2021. “It was the right time for me to leave. I wanted to move into leading an organisation.’’


Not your ‘average MD’

Duncan acknowledges she does not have the usual geologist-type background of junior exploration company MDs. But she says her BHP/South32 experience did deliver a breadth of experience across what matters for junior companies – exploration programs, early stage development work, planning operations, and transactions for growth.

“It is a full view of a company’s potential,’’ Duncan said.

“Most MDs of juniors are geologists so for me it is about surrounding myself with the right expertise, and really enabling the expertise in the team to work on the potential of the Carlingup nickel trend.’’

Perth-based for the last seven years, Duncan joined as NickelSearch’s MD in February this year after taking some time off after leaving South32. She said NickelSearch ticked the three boxes she wanted from a move to leading a company.

“I had three key components for a role. I wanted to work with really good, capable people. I wanted to focus on interesting and challenging work, and I wanted the work to mean something which nickel delivers because it has a huge role to play in the energy transition.”


Digging deep for NickelSearch

Apart from the existing 171,000 tonne nickel resource across a number of known deposits, NickelSearch’s 100% owned Carlingup ground is also home to historical high-grade production (468,131 tonnes of ore at 3.45% nickel for 16,129 tonnes of contained nickel, from 2000-2007).

“But no one has explored the Carlingup area at depth. We think that the truly exciting potential is at depth,’’ Duncan said.

Listed last October in a $10 million IPO, NickelSearch is setting out to test this at-depth potential.

A maiden drilling program after listing was focussed on updating its existing JORC resource with infill/extensional drilling.

Exploration is now moving into the “greenfields’’ category, with NickelSearch having worked up 11 Priority 1 drill targets, including three drill ready targets along a 9km mineralised corridor between the known RAV8 and RAV5 deposits.

Drilling is expected to begin in coming months.


This article was developed in collaboration with NickelSearch, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.