Women lead in Australian first

Last updated 12:59 05/12/2012
erica smyth
CHAIRWOMAN: Erica Smyth has led the Toro board for more than three years.

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The branding is positively male, but the executive ranks of Toro Energy are about to take on a feminine look.

In what is believed to be a unique set of circumstances in Australia, Toro will soon have women occupying both the chief executive and chairman roles, after announcing the departure of long-serving chief executive Greg Hall on Tuesday.

The situation will be formalised on February 8, when Dr Vanessa Guthrie replaces Hall in running the company that is close to developing Australia's next uranium mine.

Her chairwoman will be Erica Smyth, who has led the Toro board for more than three years.

While it is difficult to be certain, most gender diversity experts believe the change will make Toro the only ASX-listed company to boast the female quinella.

"To our knowledge this is the first time there has been the double of a female chair and a female CEO," said Steve Burrell from the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

The situation is even more unusual for a mining company: statistics from the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency show that only 5.2 per cent of female directors in the ASX 500 worked for "materials" companies.

That sector, which includes miners, accounts for more than 25 per cent of companies in the ASX 500.

Guthrie said there had been no discussion about achieving the female double act when she was being interviewed for the role, and she hoped shareholders would see it as a solid management transition, given she has recently been in charge of Toro's flagship Wiluna project. "For us it is about being the right person for the job," she said.

"It's unique and it's unusual but both Erica and I would like to believe that in time it will become quite the norm and not quite so unusual."

Guthrie has had a long career in environmental sustainability roles with big companies such as Woodside, Alcoa and the former Western Mining Corporation, and that expertise is expected to be a big part of bringing the Wiluna mine into production.

Expected to be the first uranium mine in Western Australia, Wiluna has attracted controversy among environmental campaigners and will operate under strict environmental guidelines laid down by governments.

Final approval from the federal government is expected within weeks, and Toro hopes to take a final investment decision by late 2013.

Hall has been a prominent spokesman for the wider uranium sector, and will remain on the board of Toro.

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He will become chief executive of copper producer Hillgrove Resources.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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