Mining unit chief in her element with copper

PHOTO: Mining unit chief in her element with copper

It is often hard for a woman to to operate in the male-dominated mining world, but that has never held Ms Ines Scotland back.

After many years working in the sector in various parts of the world, Ms Scotland, 46, ventured out on her own to form Citadel Resource Group in 2007.

The firm is listed in Australia, where Ms Scotland is a citizen, and mines gold and other metals in Saudi Arabia.

As its managing director, Ms Scotland steered the company from an initial market cap of A$10 million to A$700 million in 2010 before selling it to Equinox Minerals for A$1.25 billion that year.

That did not end her ambitions in the mining world. A few weeks ago, she formed a joint venture with Singapore-listed Blumont Group to acquire copper mining assets. Blumont Copper, as the entity is called, recently invested A$116 million (S$136 million) in Brisbane-based explorer Discovery Metals.

Recent troubles at Blumont Group have not fazed her. Last week, the group was queried by the Singapore Exchange over a 12-fold jump in its market value since the start of the year and its share price dived 56.4 per cent last Friday before trading in its shares was suspended.

Nonetheless, Ms Scotland said she remains confident about Blumont and her joint venture with it. "If the opportunity arises, I will definitely expand my partnership with Blumont," she said.

"I have full confidence in the new strategic direction that Blumont is taking in building up an additional core business for the group."

One of the reasons she had tied up with Blumont was to add to the diversity of the resource stocks here, she told the Straits Times in an interview before Blumont's recent woes.

"There are many commodity and resource stocks on the Australian stock market compared with what you can find on the Singapore Exchange," says Ms Scotland, who has taken on the role of chief executive at Blumont Copper.

"But there are opportunities for investors to enter the market at this point as resource stocks are trading below what they were worth last year."

Ms Scotland told The Straits Times in a phone interview that many investors do not realise that gold is a by-product of copper mining so the two metals often come together.

While more people are familiar with gold, copper has its pluses too.

It is a difficult commodity to substitute and is needed in wiring for cars, homes, air-conditioners and manufacturing plants, she added.

Whether it be copper or gold, Ms Scotland is clearly in her element when it comes to metals.

Having grown up in Canberra, Australia, and in the United States, the draw of working in the middle of nowhere intrigued her.

As a 22-year-old, she took up a job in the mining sector after graduating with a bachelor of science degree from the University of Technology in Sydney.

Her first job was with Comalco, at its Weipa bauxite operation in the far north of Queensland.

"People think of mining as wearing a hard hat and boots while working in a far-off location, but that's just one part of it," she said.

"It's a multi-disciplinary business too and I had the privilege of working in various departments including marketing, finance and business strategy. But I must admit that I do like being out on the mining sites."

Those early days in the late 1980s were the toughest time in her career as there were few women in the resource industry.

"I had to prove my worth and show the rest how I could be as good as, if not better than, the men!" she added.

But after three years on the job, she knew that the mining and resource industry was where she wanted to be. Her stint in the field has now reached 24 years and she continues to relish the excitement and demands of the profession.

However, sticking to the job she loves has come at a price.

Her daughter was two when her job required her to be stationed abroad. They spent about 14 years in Papua New Guinea, the United States and the Middle East before returning to their home in Australia.

"I try to make sure my vacation is in sync with her school holidays. When you are at a top job in an industry, you cannot dictate a work-life balance - like how I can't say that I'll be home by 5pm every evening.

"But I guess you could say I'm a bit of a gypsy and am comfortable with travelling and moving to a new location once every few years."

Based in Melbourne, she sees herself remaining active in the copper resource industry for at least the next 10 years.

"I was bitten by the 'copper bug' some time in 2000 when I was based in the US," she says.

"Many women say diamonds are a girl's best friend, but in my case - you could say that copper is Ines' best friend!"

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