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The Times: Business Big Shot: Paul Skinner: Skinner saw at first hand the reputational damage caused by scandal during his career at Shell

August 6, 2007

Paul Skinner is inventing a new job in Rio Tinto, that of corporate patriarch. Rio’s chairman has become the guiding hand promoting a culture of ethics, safety and environmental protection within the world’s second-largest mining group.

Mr Skinner is a veteran oilman and saw at first hand the reputational damage caused by scandal during his career at Shell. He has been chairman of Rio since 2003 and has clocked up a huge number of air miles travelling to the company’s far-flung mines.

According to Leigh Clifford, until recently chief executive of Rio, the first thing that Mr Skinner does on arriving at one of the company’s mines is to ask for the safety records. Mr Skinner also demands that executives at Rio’s Mayfair headquarters show the same respect for safety as the company’s mine managers and engineers. Anyone caught not wearing a seatbelt in a car or a taxi can expect a dressing down from the chairman himself.

Mr Skinner, a Cambridge blue in football, appears to enjoy his role as company “dad”. Each set of financial results is delivered with paternal pride and criticism prompts a bristling and robust defence.
Ethics and the environment are two other areas in which Mr Skinner is influencing Rio’s growth. He has been working with the International Council on Mining and Metals to develop guiding principles for the industry in these fields. The council, headed by Mr Clifford, is working with nongovernmental and multi-government organisations to create recognisable standards in the industry. This was an idea promoted by Mr Skinner at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year and he is understood to have been instrumental in pushing forward the plan.

Mr Skinner, 62, is one of those businessmen who seem to speed up after the end of a first career (he retired as group managing director of Shell in 2003 after nearly four decades with the oil company).

Not only does Mr Skinner work effectively full time for Rio, but he is also on the boards of the Ministry of Defence, the INSEAD business school and the International Chamber of Commerce. He is also a nonexecutive director of Standard Chartered, the bank, and Tetra Laval Group.

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