Rio Tinto Chairman Simon Thompson will not seek re-election as a nonexecutive director for 2022. Senior independent directors, Sam Laidlaw and Simon McKeon, will lead the search for a successor.
Thompson said the company’s accomplishments during 2020 were overshadowed by the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters at the Brockman No. 4 operations in Australia in May 2020. “As chairman, I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event,” he said.
Over the past eight months, Rio Tinto has been trying to repair its relationship with investors, government, civil society, indigenous leaders and traditional owners and regain their trust. In September, Rio Tinto Executive Director and Chief Executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques left the company following the backlash from the destruction of the heritage sites. It appointed Rio Tinto CFO Jakob Stausholm to replace Jacques, who started in January. Stausholm has since appointed his own executive team and added a chief executive specifically for Australia.
“The board accepts Simon’s decision and is grateful that he has agreed to provide an important period of stability and support for Jakob and the new executive team ahead of the AGMs in 2022,” Laidlaw said. “This will allow an orderly process for the appointment of our new chair and other key board members.”
“Throughout my seven years on the Rio Tinto Board, I have endeavored to promote a progressive environmental, social and governance agenda. While I am pleased with the progress we have made in many areas, the tragic events at Juukan Gorge are a source of personal sadness and deep regret, as well as being a clear breach of our values as a company.”
In addition, Michael L’Estrange, a non-executive director, will retire from the board at the conclusion of the 2021 AGMs, following a significant surgery in February.