• In the lead-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, we’re celebrating some of the champion women of the resources industry
  • Jess Maddren is chief executive of Corella Resources and recently returned to the exploration scene after a long stint on the services side of the industry
  • The Perth-raised geologist boldly applied for jobs in Mongolia and the Middle East after graduating from university


Jess Maddren’s career has come full circle, but the proud Sandgroper has no intention of returning to her home state on a permanent basis.

Maddren joined Perth-based kaolin and silica explorer Corella Resources (ASX:CR9) as chief executive last August, tasked with leading the company’s transition into developer and eventual producer of HPA raw materials from its suite of projects across Western Australia’s Yilgarn Craton.

The only condition to her appointment was that she remained based on the Gold Coast where she’s living the dream on a 1.5-acre property barely six minutes from the one of the country’s most beautiful beaches.

“I won’t leave now, I know when I’m on to a good thing,” Maddren tells Stockhead from her “gorgeous” home base.

“I can pick opportunities. This place was one of them, Corella is another.”

Maddren’s return to the mineral exploration sector comes more than two decades after graduating as a geologist (with honours) from The University of Western Australia and follows lengthy stints in senior roles with analytics specialists ALS (ASX:ALQ) and integrated services provider Downer (ASX:DOW).

“That’s how I ended up here,” she explains. “I was running three of Downer’s wholly-owned subsidiaries and the biggest one of those had their biggest factory on the Gold Coast.”


From little things, big things grow

Maddren’s career almost went in an entirely different direction had her father not intervened and encouraged her to pursue a profession that offered both financially stability and “would give me the best options in life”.

The young Maddren had her sights set on becoming a marine biologist, which is not the least bit surprising, considering she and her family grew up in what was the closest house to the beach along the whole Perth metro coast.

In fact, her mother planted the pine tree which now stands as the tallest along that particular stretch of coastline, next to the historical fishing cottage in Trigg where Maddren resided for the best part of 17 years.


Classic 90s: Jess Maddren (second row, far left) on a caving/geology trip with fellow students from Churchlands Senior High School. Pic: Supplied


When the time came to select a university course, Maddren opted for geology. And while her father was pleased, her decision was met with a high degree of scepticism almost every time she hopped into a taxi.

“Every single taxi driver in the late ’90s was apparently a geologist who couldn’t get work,” she recalls.

“It was so crazy. But I’m a girl that sees patterns and data or landscapes and I knew enough back then about human behaviour and that we typically stick to this 7-15 year cycle. I don’t know why exactly, but our memory seems to do this thing where we get hyped up and then we get disappointed before we get hyped up and disappointed again.

“The market does the same thing. So I kept telling myself, ‘look, forever and more, markets have gone up and down, forever and more, markets will continue to go up and down – let’s try to come out on the upside rather than the downside’.”

Maddren’s confidence in the market turning for the better obviously permeated through to her younger sister Lanee, who also studied geology alongside newly appointed Corella non-executive director Ben Hammond.

Maddren on a geology field trip during her uni days. Pic: Supplied


‘A male friend got the job instead’

Having topped several of her GIS classes at university, Maddren was desperate to get out into the field and stuck into some “proper exploration” like what she is now back doing with Corella.

Rather than go looking in the perhaps more familiar surrounds of WA, she applied for a job in Mongolia of all places.

Maddren was interviewed by phone and asked straight off the bat what she looked like.

“Unfortunately for me, the job wasn’t for a young, blonde, fair-skinned woman, even with the skill set I was bringing to the table,” she says.

“There was a real issue with women working in Mongolia back then. This was in 2002. But things have changed fundamentally over there since BHP and Rio Tinto moved in about 10 years ago. For exploration geologists out there, it’s quite normal to be female now, but that wasn’t the case at the time I was being hired.

“I remember saying to the guy who interviewed me would they take the reverse skill set of a six-foot-five guy, and he said, ‘yeah, do you know someone?’, so a male friend of mine got the job instead.”

As she would go on to prove over the course of the next two decades, Maddren didn’t take the rejection personally and immediately applied for another job, this time in the Middle East, which was also rebuffed on similar grounds.


Maddren during one of her first field trips to Outback WA. Pic: Supplied


Unlike the environment which is now being fostered for women in resources today, Maddren felt the only choice she had back then was to “suck it up and move on”.

“There wasn’t any space or support to make a big deal out it, you just worked around it,” she says.

“As women, we just sucked it up and learned how to work within the system, otherwise, you were never going to be progress. If you became too loud or anything like that, you were labelled painful and you wouldn’t progress. That goes for a lot of industries which have been male-dominated for so long.

“But we’ve now seen those trailblazer women and the support come out for diversity and change. We’re all more vocal about it, which is great. I feel proud that we’ve empowered the young girls of today to speak up, so they don’t have go through what so many women have had to go through.

“I’m proud that we’re changing as a community, there’s no other way to look at it. If you ponder on it too long and wrap yourself up in it, you will never move on.”


It’s me and the boys… for now

Having just chalked up six months in the chief executive’s seat at Corella, Maddren’s only regret appears to be not reaching out to managing director Tony Cormack earlier about a potential role with the company.

“One of the big reasons I joined was because I trust and respect Tony, and his core values and my core values match,” she says.

“That’s why I took the role at Corella and I love the fact that my career has rounded back around to something that, in the very beginning, was why I got into it. You get to meet some amazing, inspirational people in this industry. People like Tony become lifelong friends and you get to work together to create value based around geology.”


Maddren with Corella managing director Tony Cormack. Pic: Supplied


And while for now she has no issues with Corella being comprised of “me and the boys”, Maddren dreams of one-day potentially leading an all-female exploration company.

“There just isn’t enough of us females in the mining industry right now, but with the right people, it’s possible to do quite amazing things,” she says.

“With the right team and the right resource, magic can happen.”


At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While Corella Resources is a Stockhead advertiser, it did not sponsor this article.