Fifth Fortescue executive quits as management exodus deepens

A senior executive in Fortescue Ltd.’s energy business has quit the Australian iron ore-to-hydrogen giant, the latest in a string of senior departures raising questions about the company and its green energy ambitions.

Michael Gunner, a former lawmaker who rose to chief minister of Northern Territory, announced his resignation from the Perth-based company in a Linkedin post Thursday. After being appointed in October 2022 to lead the energy arm’s new northern Australia team, Gunner took on the Australian Director role in August and travel commitments had since made his position “too difficult,” he said.

The departure, the fifth to hit the senior leadership team in six months, comes just days after Deborah Caudle, the chief financial officer of the energy arm, left the firm created by billionaire Andrew Forrest two decades ago and today is the world’s fourth-largest iron ore miner. In recent years Forrest has embraced clean energy and particularly green hydrogen, announcing a string of projects and an expansion into asset management.

Senior departures from his team have highlighted concerns among some investors around Forrest’s leadership style and the scale of his ambition, as Australia’s richest man attempts to transform an iron ore miner into a producer of clean fuel essential to decarbonize heavy industry.

For now, the group remains reliant on revenue from sales of iron ore. Prices for the steelmaking ingredient have risen about 30% since August, helping the company’s share price hit a new record high in Sydney on Friday.

“Investors certainly note the turnover, but in terms of what’s driving earnings and free cash flow and dividend prospects — it’s the iron ore price,” UBS Group AG analyst Lachlan Shaw said in a phone interview. “It’s how their whole business is performing, and they’re performing really well.”

While Fortescue in November approved $750 million of investments in an initial slate of three clean energy projects, including a $550 million electrolyzer and hydrogen facility in Arizona, it’s yet to announce final investment decisions for proposed developments in Brazil, Norway and Kenya. This may also have helped ease investor concerns over a splurge on projects, Shaw said.

After Gunner’s departure, Fortescue said in an emailed statement Friday that the company respected “Michael’s decision, and his personal reasons for making it, and wish him and his family well.”

(By Sybilla Gross)


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