On 17 July 2014, Women in Resources Victoria held a panel discussion examining the competitiveness of the Australian resources industry.  The event was very well attended and topical in light of recent industry and media discussion of the current challenges facing the resources industry and the Government’s focus on the regulatory environment. The panel discussion was chaired by Mr Michael Catchpole, Chief Executive of The AusIMM and featured the following eminent speakers (listed in order of speaking): Kate Vidgen, Executive Director at Macquarie Capital, Brooke Miller, CFO of BP and Karen Stoffels, General Manager Finance at MMG.  Each speaker examined the topic from a different perspective.

  1. Key factors affecting resource investment choices in Australia against overseas locations (Kate Vidgen, Macquarie Capital) - Ms Vidgen spoke about the key factors affecting resource investment choices in Australia against overseas locations.  Ms Vidgen observed that there is currently ‘a wall’ of new capital seeking investment in the resources sector and therefore the challenge for Australia was to capitalise on its competitive advantages.  In considering the attractiveness of Australia as a location for investment, Ms Vidgen examined a number of commonly cited perceptions (i.e. increased sovereign risk, lack of cost competitiveness and lack of infrastructure) and critically assessed the extent to which they were in fact grounded in reality. In short, Ms Vidgen concluded that many of these common perceptions were not accurate and opportunities existed for Australia to further leverage its competitive strengths, particularly in the area of innovation.
  2. The Three C's of Competitiveness: Cost, Capability and Curiosity (Brooke Miller, BP) - Ms Miller also observed that there is currently an enormous opportunity in the market provided the right resources and conditions can be brought to bear.  In relation to the creation of the right conditions, Ms Miller identified the following three factors:
    • Creation of a ‘cost culture’ – this is not about focusing on always being the cheapest; instead, it requires an intelligent and strategic examination of the nature of the costs being incurred (aided by good tracking and a constant awareness of changes in the environment) and the extent to which they are linked to a company’s value proposition. However, equally, in the resources industry a focus on safety is essential.
    • Increased capabilities – in particular, the advent of new technology and ‘big data’ which is now driving analytics will continue to change the way business is done and provide opportunities for innovation.
    • Curiosity – Ms Miller observed that in comparison with other countries, Australia has a real competitive advantage in terms of being prepared to challenge the status quo which often results in innovation. 
  3. Choosing the right skills base and diversity mix within the work force to maximise productivity (Karen Stoffels, MMG) - Ms Stoffels discussed the challenges of creating a collaborative and productive work environment in circumstances where team members are from diverse backgrounds.  Ms Stoffels identified a number of strategies that she has successfully used in the past to bridge cross-cultural issues when managing a team located in a different country including: establishing a common purpose or goal by face-to-face meetings and agreeing on a long-term strategy up-front, adopting an inclusive approach that allows all team members to feel that they have had an opportunity to contribute, and identifying a ‘trusted adviser’ with local knowledge who is able to explain the unique differences of doing business in a particular country.  

Following the debate, Mr Catchpole moderated a question and answer session from the audience that prompted further interesting discussion of a variety of issues including the likely impact of the current Government’s new policies and how best to institutionalise a culture of innovation.