Rob Neale – Siecap’s resources sector legend shares his “scar tissue experience”

Rob Neale is a resources industry heavyweight who has over 46 years’ experience and has lived through more big mining sector changes and cyclical ups and downs than most.

The former New Hope Corporation Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Director is applying his significant expertise as an advisory board member at project management and advisory firm Siecap. The company’s blue-chip clients include Peabody, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Glencore, AGL, Wesfarmers, Caltex, Mercedes-Benz, Transport for NSW, Nexans Olex, Origin Energy and more.

He has been awarded the annual Queensland Resources Council Medal for his outstanding, 40-year contribution to the sector, is a past Chairman of the Australian Coal Association Research Program and a former President of the Queensland Resources Council.

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One of his major achievements in a long and prestigious career includes being responsible for the “coal deal of the century”, acquiring and divesting the New Saraji Coal Project in Queensland.

Rob also specialises in driving low-cost, optimally efficient operations, has unparalleled experience in delivering and chairing resources companies in Australia and internationally, and is a recognised key note speaker.

Armed with a stellar career in exploration and production across several continents and commodities, including gold, base metals, synthetic fuels and coal, he has long cautioned senior resources industry executives to make the most of the downturn by “thinking like a buyer”, investing in good people and executing good business management. In addition, “cost-cutting is not a business strategy” is one of his catchcries at public-speaking events.

“Don’t keep making the same bloody mistakes,” he says emphatically, when asked for his top advice to the sector, having experienced up to six mining downturns.

“I get downhearted when people don’t listen and governments take very short-sighted and easy decisions for them politically, which prevent growth and development.

“Last year, we lost more than 20,000 people out of the industry in Australia. That’s a huge amount of lost knowledge, experience and exposure. They lose their path in the industry and then a decade later, the cycle picks up again.

“History is a great teacher of what not to do, however, the human race has the classic ability to ignore history and repeat the same mistakes of the past,” he says.

The resources sector must adjust to the new normal and not expect a return to the boom time, Rob says. He cites expensive technological innovation in the industry, such as increasing automation in plants, trucks and rail, as being a positive and necessary survival by-product of high-cost structures.

“Some of the volatility has been positive in the past few months, with some of the smaller metals, commodities, junior explorers having significant equity share price increase,” he says.

Importantly, Rob’s still passionate about his chosen vocation, more than four decades later. “Personally, I think it’s a fabulous industry; people think it’s just mining or oil and gas, but operations basically require and apply the whole spectrum of society skills,” he explained.

When asked what advice he’d give to a young person coming into the industry, he says: “I’d ask them why they want to do that? If you don’t have conviction and commitment and if you’re just there because you need a job, you’ll be disappointed and likely fail.”

“You’ve got to get a good education, be it TAFE, tertiary or an apprenticeship, and as in all cases and jobs, you have to stay relevant. I’m still learning every day,” he says.