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How values drive an enterprise

By Beatrice Thomas

Iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group has become a global force since its founding by WA businessman and chairman Andrew Forrest in 2003.

With its first shipment of ore departing WA in 2008, the company has since delivered more than 1.1 billion tonnes to its customers. 

Now the world’s fourth largest iron ore producer, shipping at a rate of 170 million tonnes per annum, CEO Elizabeth Gaines attributes the company’s success to its foundations of a strong culture.  

Fortescue employees up to 10,000 people directly and indirectly, with 95 per cent of employees based in WA. More than 19 per cent of staff are female and the company is one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the country, accounting for 12.4 per cent of direct employees.  

Gaines says the company’s culture and values are as fresh and relevant today as they were when the company started in 2003 and everyone from the leadership team down must embrace them.  

“They actually underpin everything we do and are certainly never taken for granted,” she told a WA Mining Club luncheon. 

“In this growth phase we are now entering, we are investing and ensuring that new members of the Fortescue family embrace all aspects of our culture. 

“It’s not a smorgasbord, you don’t’ get to pick and choose which of the values you like. All of our values are equally important.” 

Fortescue’s values include:  

  • safety 
  • empowerment 
  • family 
  • frugality 
  • stretch targets 
  • integrity 
  • enthusiasm 
  • courage and determination 
  • generating ideas, and 
  • humility.  

Gaines says the values are not just for posters to stuck up in the crib room but are incorporated in various ways into the weekly schedule.  

Some examples include:   

  • A weekly town hall meeting called the Red Café, which is held at 9am every Tuesday. Gaines says she first experienced the meeting as a board member but now hosts it.  

“It’s a really important engagement tool, not just for our team based in Perth but we stream it to our sites.”  

  • In Ecuador, where the company has established early stage exploration activities, it engaged local townspeople to assist.  

“What it proves to me is that our cultures and values are not just relevant here in Australia but also overseas.”  

  • The values form a decision-making framework which starts with empowerment.  

“Everyone at Fortescue is empowered to initiate ideas and make changes that lead to better productivity and safety outcomes. Anyone who has visited Fortescue will know we are very low on bureaucracy. Our leadership focus is to support the empowerment of our team members.”  

Iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group has become a global force since its founding by WA businessman and chairman Andrew Forrest in 2003.

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