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Chairman of the Australia Council, Former Rio Tinto CEO

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Sam Walsh AO is one of Australia’s top business people.

He is the first non-Japanese language speaker on the conglomerate Mitsui & Co Board in Japan and Chairman of Gold Corporation (Australia the Perth Mint).

He retired as CEO of Rio Tinto Group, culminating 25 years with the company. During his term as CEO he reduce operating costs by US$6.8 billion and reduced net debt from US$22 billion to US$9.5 billion.

Sam Walsh grew up in Melbourne. He was one of five children, and when he was only fifteen years old, his father died suddenly of a heart attack. He describes the death of his father as a time when everything changed.

"My mother had never even written a cheque, she had never looked after the bills and that was a role I stepped into. I was managing the home finances and being the leader of the family, which continued on. You lose a lot. You lose the father figure, the advice and counsel. There's something lost that you don't get back. But if I look back, it did throw me in the deep end early and I swam and swam well.”

Sam Walsh is an engaging and compelling speaker with a wealth of international business wisdom.

Current work

He is currently the chairman of the Australia Council, the Australian Government's arts funding and advisory body. Mr Walsh has served on the Australia Council board since 2016. His appointment as Chairman will see him working to strengthen the Council’s role as an advocate and adviser to the federal government.

He is also Chairman of the Accenture Global Mining Council (UK), Royal Flying Doctor Service (WA Ops), and the Perth Diocesan Trust.

Previous experience

Automotive: After graduating in commerce from Melbourne University, Walsh began his career as a trainee buyer at General Motors. During the next 20 years in the automotive industry, he was promoted to and held senior positions at General Motors and at Nissan Australia. In 1991 he joined Rio Tinto.

Management: Walsh held a number of management positions within Rio Tinto, including chief executive of the Aluminium group 2001-2004, and chief executive of the Iron Ore group 2004-2013.

Based in Perth, he oversaw successful mining operations and US$20 billion expansions in the Pilbara. During his tenure, the lucrative Pilbara iron ore business grew to account for more than 80% of Rio Tinto’s net earnings.

CEO: On 17 January 2013, Walsh was appointed CEO of Rio Tinto Group.

Arts: Walsh actively supports the arts in Australia. He founded the Western Australia Chamber for Arts and Culture and was Chairman of WA chapter of Australian Business Arts Foundation. He was also president of the Western Australia branch of Scouts Australia.

Officer: In 2010, Walsh was appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia.

Talking Points

Business Turnaround

Sam successfully led the turnaround of GMH in the late 80s, the export of Australian cars to Japan in the 90s and the turnaround of Rio Tinto in 2013-6.

He knows the levers to pull in restructuring and repositioning a business, and how to engage the entire organisation in reinventing itself.

Planning and strategizing is vital, but implementation is the hard bit and Sam will explain how to succeed at this.


Sam describes how to successfully embed leadership and culture change in an organisation.

He covers the importance of symbolism and engagement, involvement and communication, as well as how to celebrate success and motivate and inspire an organisation to succeed.

Sam describes his experiences working for an American organisation (General Motors), a Japanese company (Nissan) and an Anglo Australian company (Rio Tinto).

Technology and Innovation

Sam describes his technology journey in the automotive industry and in mining.

He describes the journey at Rio Tinto which led to automated Trucks, Drill, Trains and Remote Operations Centres.

He discusses incremental innovation through the implementation of Lean Six Sigma, and talks of innovation at Hitachi, Komatsu, Bridgestone and Toyota.

Adding Value

The importance of understanding how Business actually operates. Vision. Mission. Strategy. Implementation.

- Understanding shareholder value and how individuals within a business add value
- How employees should focus their efforts
- How to engage with employees in business transformation

Succeeding 'Not for Profits' in 2017

Sam has extensive experience particularly in the Arts Sector - Theatre, Opera, Ballet and Art Galleries.

- Running for cash and cash forecasting
- Governance and Compliance for NfPs
- Lessons from the Arts World in the UK and Australia

From Manufacturing to Mining

Sam describes his journey from the Car Industry to running the second largest mining company in the world.

He talks to his experiences in purchasing, sales and marketing, operations and General Management. He describes his first-hand business experiences in USA, Chile, and Australia. He discusses the synergies and value-add in best practice manufacturing and mining.

Global but Local

Sam describes running a Global organisation based in 40 countries with 65,000 staff.

He discusses his roles in APEC, B20, AJBCC, Australia India CEO Forum.

He comments on his work with the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, the Church of England and the Church in Scotland.

He also addresses the importance of getting the focus right between Government and Community

Spirituality in Business

Society expects a chasm between business and religion. Business has extensive interactions with society through employees, communities, suppliers, customers and Government. Business wants to be seen as a good corporate citizen with strong values and ethics. This talk discusses Community Investment Programs and Code of Conduct.
Sam has a presence in him which naturally draws the audience attention even though he is a soft spoken gentleman. We’ve received lots of positive feedback on Sam’s content. Thank you. SAP Ariba
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