Recently snapping up the Digger of the Year award at the 25th annual Diggers and Dealers conference in Kalgoorlie, Fortsecue Metals Group has been making great progress across its portfolio.  On the back of the recent win, chief executive Nev Power spoke to Elizabeth Fabri about the highlights of his job, Fortescue’s CEO for a Day program, and his views on where the iron ore market is heading.

Q. What are your qualifications and background in the mining industry?

I grew up on a property in Queensland and home-schooled for the early part of my education before attending high school in Mt Isa.

I left school at 15 to join Mount Isa Mines as an apprentice and later went on to complete an engineering degree, and subsequently an MBA. I spent 23 years with Mount Isa Mines working across open cut and underground mining in base metals, gold and coal, which provided a great foundation in mining and mineral processing.

I joined Smorgon Steel Group in 1996 and spent 12 years in steel making and downstream processing in Australia, Indonesia and the US.

From there, I moved to Thiess, a major mining and construction contractor, as chief executive Australian operations.

In February 2011, I joined Fortescue as chief operating officer, and in July of that year was appointed chief executive officer. Over the last five years the company has quadrupled production to 169mtpa, while reducing costs by more than two-thirds to become one of the world’s lowest cost producers of iron ore.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you?

One of the great things about this job is that there aren’t too many days you’d describe as “typical”. I spend a considerable amount of my time at our mining operations in the Pilbara, as well as at our rail and port facilities and our exploration sites. I particularly enjoy the opportunity to spend time with our teams to understand the challenges and opportunities they are facing. The conversations I have with our employees, our contractors and suppliers are invaluable to really get across what’s happening on the ground and how we can continue to develop our capability, productivity and efficiency.

A core focus for us as a business is ensuring that our local communities benefit from our operations through jobs and development of business capability. I meet regularly with our traditional owners and native title groups to discuss how we can achieve that goal. Similarly, we work closely with all levels of government and I take every opportunity to showcase our operations to all of our stakeholders, often hosting visits by politicians, community groups as well as media and our investors.

China is our most important market and I frequently travel there with our marketing team to meet with our customers and investors, steel mills as well as shipping and port operations. We work hard to maintain the valuable relationships that we have developed in China since our establishment and I am pleased to be able to visit many of our customers as well as our suppliers, education partners and government stakeholders.

The release of our financial and production reports to the market provides a great opportunity to brief the media and analysts on our business performance and results. It’s a real privilege to be able to do that on behalf of all of our team.

Q. Describe your CEO for a Day Should initiatives like this be introduced industry-wide?

Fortescue’s CEO for a Day program is one of the initiatives that we’re very proud of given its primary objective to inspire young Aboriginal people to become Australia’s future business leaders.

As a company, we have set a goal of 20 per cent Aboriginal employment by 2020, and we are actively supporting our next generation of Aboriginal leaders. I think that initiatives like CEO for a Day, which was inspired by GenerationOne’s annual CEO for a Day, offer immense value by helping young and aspiring Aboriginal people challenge the status quo and take positive steps towards becoming our future business leaders. This is one of the ways we can as a business make a real, positive impact on Aboriginal communities.

There is a disproportionately low representation of Aboriginal people in leadership roles and there is no reason why this should continue to be the case.

I think more Australian businesses should focus on the implementation of programs which promote sustainable solutions through the provision of guaranteed jobs, with training and education to bridge any skills gap.

Q. What are your thoughts on the current iron ore market, and how do you expect it to evolve in the next couple of years?

The iron ore market has been in a state of relative supply demand balance for some time now and we’ve seen that reflected in the price trading consistently within a band of US$40-60 a tonne since the start of the year.

Chinese steel production covers around half of global production and at around 800 million tonnes a year, it represents a very strong market for Australian iron ore.

We are confident in the fundamentals of the Chinese economy over the medium to long-term as urbanisation, industrialisation and infrastructure growth continues. With a growth rate well over six per cent per year, China will remain a very significant trading partner for Australia for many decades to come.

At the same time, we anticipate steady growth across other emerging markets as the massive One Belt, One Road infrastructure plan unfolds beyond China, and demand for steel grows in other large economies across the region, including India.

Q. What advice would you give to people looking to develop a career in the mining industry?

The mining industry is an exciting, fast paced place to work and it’s certainly a career I would recommend. It’s important to bring an innovative focus, a desire to learn new skills and take on additional opportunities as well as a willingness to put forward fresh ideas and to contribute as a team player.

At Fortescue we’ve set ourselves some ambitious targets to increase the diversity in our workforce, specifically in our Aboriginal participation as well as the number of women across all areas of the business. I am a strong advocate for the benefits that diversity provides in all of its guises: background, skills, experience as well as gender and ethnicity so would encourage everyone to explore the different roles available.

Operating in a global environment puts competitiveness in the spotlight and a focus on continuous improvement means that a career with a company like Fortescue will provide fantastic learning opportunities, the chance to work in some of the most beautiful parts of Australia and as part of a great team contributing strongly to our local, state and national economies.