Jim North joined Ferrexpo in November 2014 as Group Chief Operating Officer before being appointed the Chairman of Ferrexpo Belanovo Mining in February 2015. In May last year, North was appointed as Interim Chief Executive Officer of Ferrexpo plc, and in July 2020 was appointed Executive Director for the Board of Ferrexpo.
Since joining Ferrexpo, North has successfully managed the company's operations and introduced world-class operating practices. Previously, he was Chief Operating Officer of London Mining, where he was accountable for setting the company's operational and investment strategy around the world. Prior to this, he held a variety of senior operational management roles in multiple commodities with Rio Tinto and BHP.
“It was a good grounding for me”, recalls North. “The majors make sure that you've got all the skill sets you need; if you're good at what you do, they give you the opportunity to broaden that base. In some companies, the strategy is for people to specialise. I think the danger in doing that is that you can't then grow the next level of general managers or senior executives in the organisation, because I think what you need, as you move up and you're expected to manage a broad portfolio of activities, it's only through getting exposures to many different activities as you develop through a career that makes you a good leader”.
As a former metallurgist and chemical engineer, early in his career, North also got the opportunity to look after truck and shovel, experienced mining, and worked in a port. “You don’t become an expert but it gives you an insight into the different functions you need to oversee, where to ask the right questions, how to probe and dig in… You can develop enough knowledge to run the skillsets that are embedded in you and find solutions to the challenges that arise”.
Taking the helm at Ferrexpo during a global pandemic has tested North’s leadership skills but with a high-quality product (iron ore pellets at 65%) to leverage, he notes the sales and marketing division did a stellar job pivoting towards Asian markets while Europe was in lockdown. “Our customers would like more volume than we’re able to supply”, says North. “Our sales performance was excellent. We have a strong team in Ukraine; experienced mining GMs with many years at the company which has given me the confidence to focus on leading Ferrexpo through the pandemic”.
Describing himself as a participant leader, North sees strong leadership driving a positive culture. “Our approach to culture is evolving, and I'd like to think that's because of the leadership I've brought to the organisation over the last seven years”, he says. “What really drives our business is a culture of accountability and driving operating discipline. Mining is not rocket science. It's about understanding what it is you want to do, where you want to take the business, developing a plan, and then executing well. We focus on efficiency and have a mantra behind that. We've given our culture a brand; we call it ‘One Ferrexpo’ because the answer to the challenges we face will come from within the group. Everybody needs to be working as one and focused on our objectives”.
North has been working in the mining industry for three decades and takes pride in moulding a winning team. “When I came to the Ukraine, we had an amazing group of people, well-skilled and educated, but not exposed to the latest technologies and methodologies being deployed globally across the mining industry. Giving people the right exposure, and the insights into how we can take what we’re doing, modify it and watch them grow into that is vital to how we future proof the business. It’s like lighting a fire… You put a spark there, see the potential and you watch the kindling start to burn and then you see people grow into it, and then they're off and running. I really enjoy fanning the flames and watching our people become leaders in their own right.”
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