A rockslide at Rio Tinto’s huge Bingham Canyon copper mine knocked $2bn off its shares; Atkinson had it back up and running inside 9 months
When a rockslide the size of a massive earthquake hit Rio Tinto's Bingham Canyon copper mine in the US in 2013, the company promoted its top troubleshooter, Rob Atkinson, to co-ordinate the rebuild.
Costing $5m per day, the news knocked $1bn off Rio’s earnings and $2bn off its shares, but remote-controlled bulldozers were moving within three days, working round the clock, building a kilometre of new roads, whilst 20 new trucks were built onsite. Before the end of the year, Bingham Canyon was producing 8 per cent more copper than before the collapse.
Having studied mining engineering in Glasgow, Atkinson moved to Queensland as general manager of Rio Tinto's Weipa bauxite mine, earning a reputation for
an impeccable safety record. In uranium and aluminium, he was charged with fixing-up the group’s thorniest operations, rising to head of productivity, rolling-out driverless trucks and trains in Western Australia. From over 100,000, Rio's workforce has halved in ten years.
Whilst Rio Tinto is now run by robots, Colorado-based gold miner Newmont is run by Rio’s former executives: after 13 years in Darwin and London, Atkinson followed Gary Goldberg and Tom Palmer to Newmont in 2019, carrying ambitious plans to automate its largest mines, from Ghana to the Nevada desert. Robotics are “a reality of modern day life,” Atkinson has told MIT Tech Review. “We will remain a very significant employer.”