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Mining in the blood: Pilbara Minerals CEO Ken Brinsden shares his secrets to success

Alumni News

Ken Brinsden is a mining engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in surface and underground mining projects.

Brinsden graduated from Curtin Western Australian School of Mines in 1993, and has since created an extensive career profile working with companies including WMC Resources, Normandy, Central Norseman Gold Corporation and Iluka Resources.

He was Managing Director of Atlas Iron for more than three years, and continues his role there as Non Executive Director.

K.Brinsden

During his time at Atlas Iron, Brinsden contributed to the rapid growth and development of the company from a “junior explorer to iron order producer.”

The company stayed ahead of its competitors thanks to the “amazing culture and team spirit that was, and still is, evident there,” Brinsden says. “Add to that a healthy dose of innovation and you get a pretty special combination that drives outcomes.”

“We developed five mines in six years while at Atlas. I doubt there are many mining companies globally that could claim that record.”

Though Brinsden’s career in mining is undoubtedly impressive, he explains he never had grand plans when it came to his future.

“I haven’t done much in the way of career planning. I’ve generally been working hard in the role I was in, and then delivering results,” he says.

“Once that happens, the plan seems to get sorted for you as those results get noticed by people who matter in the progress of your career. I’ve watched people over the years who are more focused on career progression than they are on the results that they deliver. I can assure you that progressing your career is only related to the latter.”

Brinsden believes emotional integrity is also important to employ in any profession, particularly when working with or managing groups of people.

“I can’t stress enough how important that emotional intelligence is,” he says. “Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, and being able to see them in others is crucial to leadership and building successful teams.”

Brinsden’s interpersonal skills extend beyond the mining grounds with his long held interest in community development. The success of Iluka Resources was in part due to the strong bonds Brinsden established with the south west Victorian communities within which the company worked. In 2005 Iluka Resources received the ‘Strzelecki Gold Award’ for excellence in community engagement.

He was also Director of Manna for three years, a not-for-profit volunteer Victorian organisation that assists homeless and disadvantaged individuals and families.

“Being honest, I don’t think the mining industry on the whole has done a great job integrating with the broader community,” Brinsden says.

“Of course there are notable exceptions and credit where it’s due, however you can always do more. Through deeper engagement the community should get exposure and benefit out of an industry that is so important to the WA economy.”

Brinden’s interest in mining was instilled in him by his family, who have a long history with the industry.

“My dad is an electrical engineer, however before him grandfathers (on both sides of the family) and my great grandfather were deeply involved in mining as managers or educators,” he says.

“You would have to say mining was in the blood.”

Brinsden entered the mining industry shortly after the gold boom of the 1980s, and though mining has always been a part of his life, there were still challenges involved with taking on significant responsibility at a young age.

“Looking after many peoples’ safety, managing big projects and being accountable to shareholders are all serious challenges and not to be sneezed at,” he says.

“As is the case with most things in life though, you are not on your own. There is always a team, and my experience is that almost universally the people involved want to help and given an environment to thrive, they often will. With that in mind, a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Some of the problems and challenges faced by today’s mining engineers are how to remain relevant and move forward in an industry that is experiencing a decline.

“Clearly it’s a tough period for the industry, however part of me says it had to happen, as the previous decade had led to unsustainable cost increases that were starting to get ‘baked-in’,” says Brinsden, who is optimistic about Australia’s mining future.

“Technology is having as big an influence as ever on the global community. That brings disruption to classic industries and I would say that presents opportunities in natural resources as well. What are those commodities that are set to be in demand as a result of the decline of fossil fuels, new transport technology, renewable energies and more? That’s where the opportunities lie.”

Brinsden’s current work with Pilbara Minerals involves a remarkable lithium discovery at the Pilgangoora Project in the North Pilbara, and progressing and improving on his company’s development and collaborative success.

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