04/12/2017 - 10:30

Gaines for women at the top

04/12/2017 - 10:30


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Elizabeth Gaines’ selection last week as the incoming chief executive of Fortescue Metals Group has shot her to the top of a very short list of genuinely powerful women in business in Western Australia. Click through to read more and see our listing of 12 leading WA women in business.

Gaines for women at the top
Andrew Forrest with Elizabeth Gaines (left) and Julie Shuttleworth. Photo: Fortescue Metals Group

Elizabeth Gaines’ selection last week as the incoming chief executive of Fortescue Metals Group has shot her to the top of a very short list of genuinely powerful women in business in Western Australia.

She will rank alongside Hancock Prospecting chairman Gina Rinehart and Shell Australia chairman Zoe Yujnovich as the most influential WA women in business.

Ms Gaines selection is noteworthy from an international perspective.

She will join Cynthia Carroll, who formerly headed Anglo American, as the only woman to have run a globally significant listed mining company.

From an Australian perspective, Ms Gaines will be one of the few women to have run a top 50 ASX company.


She will join Kerrie Mather, who is due to retire as chief executive of ASX-listed Sydney Airport next month.

Ms Gaines selection adds to many firsts achieved by Fortescue, which has repeatedly defied the odds to become one of WA’s largest companies.

The company has five women on its nine-member board of directors, a gender mix that few, if any, large listed companies can match.

And in the new year, when the announced changes take effect, it will have both a female chief executive in Ms Gaines and a female deputy chief executive in Julie Shuttleworth.

Announcing their selection, chairman Andrew Forrest told journalists the most outstanding candidates were women.

“The board took a hard, ability-based approach,” he said.

“We found in Julie and Elizabeth a really phenomenal team, one that we didn’t think we could replace anywhere in the world.”

Ms Gaines will bring wide executive experience to the role.

“Julie and I, our view is that we’ve been through a thorough process and this has definitely been on merit,” Ms Gaines said.

“Having said that ... this is an important signal to corporate Australia around the importance of having diversity in the ‘C’ suite, not just around the board table.”

Ms Gaines’ path to the top job at Fortescue has been unusual.

She joined the company’s board as a non-executive director in 2013 before being appointed chief financial officer, staying on the board as an executive director.

Previous roles include being chief executive of ASX-listed travel group Helloworld and the Holmes a Court family’s private company, Heytesbury.

Earlier in her career, she has worked for Bankwest and EY.

Her deputy is a 40under40 award winner, who has combined a young family with her fly-in, fly-out job as general manager of Fortescue’s Solomon mine.

“I worked through the whole pregnancy, mostly up at site, but I had to stop flying at eight months,” Ms Shuttleworth told Business News last year.

“I worked in the Perth office for a month, stopped work and a day later Jett was born.

“I don’t know how many women have done fly-in, fly-out while eight months pregnant, running a mine as a general manager; it’s probably a unique experience.”

In that interview, Ms Shuttleworth made no secret of her ambition.

“One day I want to be CEO of a medium-to-large mining company; there’s a few steps before I get there, I’m not in any rush, but that’s my longer-term career goal,” she said.

Ms Gaines’ promotion to chief executive means she will attract a lot more attention, some probably unwanted.

In Business News’ annual executive remuneration survey published last month, she was the only woman among 113 WA people to have an annual income of more than $1 million.

In the next survey, she will rank much higher, judging by her predecessor Nev Power, who had total income last year of $7.4 million.

While there are few female chief executives at WA-listed companies, there is an increasing number of women on their boards.

Business News reported in September that, for the first time, the state’s 20 largest companies each had at least one female director on their board.

Tracey Horton stands apart from the pack, as she is chairman of a major listed company, Navitas.

Tracey Horton is chairman at Navitas.

Other prominent female directors include Diane Smith-Gander, Sharon Warburton, Fiona Harris and Shirley In't Veld (see table).

The Australian Institute of Company Directors has a target for all ASX 200 companies to have 30 per cent female directors by the end of 2018.

Prominent WA women in business also include Mary Hackett, who is chief executive for Australia, New Zealand and PNG for oil and gas services company Baker Hughes,a GE company.



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