Speaking to more than 500 attendees at the Melbourne Mining Club dinner at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London on Wednesday July 1, he cut a confident, approachable figure, inviting questions and bantering wittily.
“Don’t call me Mr Walsh,” he told one of the enquirers from the podium. “Even my grandchildren call me Sam.”
There are plenty of reasons to be cheerful, for those who can look beyond the short term, Sam went on.
China’s economy will grow more in the next ten years than it has in the last 25, he said. Africa’s population will double by 2050, by which time another 2.5 billion people globally will have moved to an urban environment creating a sizeable infrastructure deficit.
“The world will need many more Oyu Tolgois [mines], so Jean-Sébastien Jacques, our head of copper, get a move on,” he said.
Someone who had spotted officials from Glencore and X2 among the guests asked Sam if any of their chequebooks might be taken out later in the evening, following M&A speculation in the coal market.
“If you have a decent-sized cheque book, we’d be pleased to sit down and talk to you. I just hope you’ve had a good conversation with X2 and Glencore, so I can find out what they’re thinking,” he said.
Women in Mining then asked what Rio planned to do to get more women into the industry. Sam explained that women are inclined to undersell themselves and men are inclined to do the opposite. He also lamented the lack of women in management roles and said Rio’s workforce comprises 18% women, missing out on 32% of talent.
“Women have to be more flexible and take a risk, and we have to take a risk by putting them in those roles,” he added.
A rather clumsy way of putting it, Sam, but we get your drift.