10 May 2023

Rio Tinto goes back to the future with reshuffling of roles

| Matt Nicholls
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Shona Markham is the new GM of Rio Tinto’s Weipa operations.

WEIPA will get its own general manager again after the sudden resignation of Michelle Elvy paved the way for Rio Tinto to shuffle the deckchairs on its bauxite business.

Former Weipa GM Dan van der Westhuizen is now the chief operating officer of Rio Tinto’s Pacific operations and made the announcement to staff in a memo at lunchtime on Thursday.

He said: “Michelle Elvy … has resigned and will leave the Rio Tinto business, effective today.”

However, it appeared the mining company had been well prepared for the news.

In the same announcement about Ms Elvy’s resignation, it was also announced that Rio Tinto had decided to go back to its old ways of employing a GM at both Weipa and Gove, rather than having one person manage both sites.

Shona Markham will take the reins at Weipa, moving from Rio Tinto’s Bell Bay Aluminium operations in Tasmania.

“I’m delighted Shona has accepted the new role as general manager of Weipa,” Mr van der Westhuizen said.

“Cape York is the future of Rio Tinto’s Australian bauxite business, so, looking forward, it’s appropriate to have a GM role wholly focused on Weipa operations, supporting our people and growing the very important partnerships with the Cape York community.

“Shona has been part of our Pacific operations business for more than 18 years, including more than 10 years at Gladstone.

“Shona understands the importance of Weipa’s operations and its place in the community well. She has an excellent track record in safety and operational performance and engaging with her teams and community.

“She’s the right person to lead Weipa operations and support the operations and community’s future.”

In his memo to staff, Mr van der Westhuizen thanked Ms Elvy for her contribution.

“Since joining us in March 2021, Michelle has supported the bauxite team during an unprecedented time responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and in bringing more alignment between the Gove and Weipa operations,” he wrote.

“I want to thank Michelle for her contribution over the past 11 months and wish her well in her future endeavours.”

There was no explanation for the sudden departure.

Rio Tinto sources told Cape York Weekly it was not related to the recent independent report regarding Rio Tinto’s workplace culture of bullying, racism and harassment.

Ms Elvy was a big recruit for Rio Tinto, having poached her from BHP.

She was put in the role of running Rio’s bauxite operations at Weipa, Gove and the remote staff in Brisbane.

It’s understood that Rio Tinto executives had heated discussions about the role and whether it would be too much for one person.

Last week’s reshuffle to bring back individual GMs for Weipa and Gove would suggest that Rio Tinto is now conceding the role was too great for one individual to manage.

Steven Dunstone, currently operations manager at Gove, has accepted the role of general manager at the Northern Territory site, which is in a major transition period.

Weipa Town Authority chair Michael Rowland said he looked forward to working with the new GM and hoped she would be in the chair for a significant period.

“It’s been difficult having so many GMs or acting GMs in a short period,” he said.

“We know they have a mine to run but there’s also the town, which needs a lot of support.”

Western Cape Chamber of Commerce president Vance Wallin said it was impossible to achieve long-term progress without stability in the general manager position.

“We look forward to working with Shona for a long time and hope she settles into Weipa,” he said.

Bell Bay Aluminium paid tribute to their outgoing boss on Facebook, who was GM at the Tasmania site for less than two years.

“As many of you know, Shona started her career with BBA as a graduate engineer in 2004.

“With a strong ability to lead from the outset, she soon moved into a superintendent role where she spent more than four years.

“In 2009, she made the move to Gladstone to join the team at Boyne Smelters Limited, where she continued to refine her experience as a leader at manager level, before accepting the role of general manager at BBA in 2020 and returning to where it all began some 16 years later.

“Since then, she has made an incredible impact on our site, guiding our team through what has been a challenging time for many as we have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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