June 2018

‘Never give up’: How Julie Shuttleworth turned her passion into a career

  • By Liz Swanton

Julie Shuttleworth’s interest in rocks started very early, and ultimately led her to the top of one of the world’s major iron ore producers

Talk to Julie Shuttleworth, deputy CEO of the Fortescue Metals Group, and it’s easy to understand why she has done so well. Her passion and enthusiasm for her work are palpable.

That positivity and drive started in childhood, as did the focus that helped take her to the top of her chosen field. Born and bred in Pemberton, in the southwest corner of Western Australia, Julie loved spending time with her father, absorbing his knowledge of rocks and mechanical skills – such as how to fix cars and tractors. She also knew she preferred the bush to the city. The future was being shaped.

‘We had family field trips where Dad would describe how various landscapes and rock types were formed. I really enjoyed learning those things, and yes I definitely had a rock collection!’ she laughs.

Julie loved science, particularly chemistry, but as she moved through high school she knew she wasn’t cut out to wear a lab coat and work inside all day. Her love for rocks, machinery and the outdoors led her to research careers until she found a solution. Studying a double major in chemistry and extractive metallurgy took her where she wanted to be – the mining industry.

‘I started out focusing on being a highly competent and value-adding metallurgist, with strong technical skills, then I learnt more about leadership as my career progressed,’ says Julie, who maintains that delivering measurable results to an employer is key to building a career.

Julie was Telstra Businesswoman of the Year (WA, 2012) and spent 20 years in gold and copper mining before joining Fortescue’s iron ore operations in 2013. From 2015-2017 she was General Manager of Fortescue’s Solomon Mine, and she says that spending 12 years working in China and Tanzania was a great professional experience, but there were personal gains as well.

‘As Process Manager for the Buzwagi Project in Tanzania, I was responsible for developing a gold mine from feasibility study, through design, engineering, sourcing equipment, organising contract services, construction, recruiting and training a team, commissioning the process plant and taking the mine into operation.’

A major achievement was the creation of local jobs – more than 90 per cent of the company’s Tanzanian employees had never worked in mining before, so Julie and her team trained thousands. There were wider benefits to the community too, with the company building schools, water wells and health facilities.

‘That whole process of bringing a mine from paper through to operation, contributing to the community, and then becoming General Manager, responsible for the whole site at the age of 35, was a highlight of my career.’

When Julie started with Canadian gold mining company Barrick in Africa she was the plant metallurgist. She credits her superintendent – Dave Anthony – as being a great mentor as she followed him one step at a time up the career ladder.

‘Dave encouraged me to have more confidence, to say what I was thinking in meetings rather than just staying quiet and improve how I presented myself. He ensured I had varied work experiences to enhance my career development. Dave made sure head office knew about my achievements, when promotion opportunities arose he was very supportive and made sure the relevant people knew I could do the job.

‘From him I learned a lot about leadership. When we met I was a metallurgist and at the end of our time working together I was a general manager, so he was very impactful along that journey.’

Julie doesn’t believe today’s career challenges are much different to 20 years ago. Yes, she says, technology is definitely advancing, but the basics are still important: gaining good technical background and exposure, mastering your job and learning leadership and people skills along the way.

‘At some point you have to decide if you will be a people leader or a technical leader and that’s a challenge facing young professionals. I could have gone more technical and become a company’s group metallurgy leader, but I found my interest in operational leadership and that’s why I took the route to general manager.

‘When I mentor young women, these are the questions they are asking. Young engineers are wondering if, and when, they should get operational and supervisory experience and trying to decide what will be best for their careers.’

Julie is a natural ‘go-to’ person for women in the sector, but she is adamant her ‘golden rules’ apply to both men and women, and are the parameters she has used for her own career.

‘Have a positive attitude, be authentic to yourself, be confident, be willing to “give it a go” and make sure you deliver results for the business.

‘A positive person really makes a difference to the team, be positive in your attitude, what you say and your body language – do things that give you positive energy, that recharge you and keep you happy.’

Julie says authenticity is as important as positivity. She remembers her early career when she started swearing and trying to fit in with everyone else around her, but she soon realised she didn’t have to do this to be successful.

‘Reflecting back, that was a good learning experience and now I tell young women entering the industry they just need to be themselves.

‘You don’t have to change who you are to try to fit in. Maintain yourself, your authenticity, your personality, principles and character. Being authentic develops trust and respect from others, it reduces your stress, increases resilience and makes you happier.’

Julie believes it’s important for women not to get caught up thinking things should be different or harder because of gender. Rather than thinking about barriers, focus on doing the job effectively.

‘Lead by example, have confidence in yourself and add value. That’s what earns you recognition, respect and career advancement.

She also advises anyone wanting to progress their careers to ‘go for it!’. There are always challenges, she
says, and it’s important to work through them.

‘Talk about your career aspirations to people who can help you. Use role models, networking opportunities and ask someone to be your mentor. Never be afraid to give something a go, even if you don’t have the perfect experience.’

While not one of Julie’s ‘golden rules’, this one could be. Twenty-twenty hindsight has shown she could have put herself under less stress by trying not to be such a perfectionist, particularly at the start. It’s good advice.

‘I definitely have a better handle on managing stress now. I think “will it really matter in two days or two weeks or even 20 years?”, and that puts it into perspective.

‘I could have learned earlier not to try to do everyone else’s job. Don’t try to do everything because you want it done quickly or to a specific standard. I had to learn to be more patient and wait a bit longer for things to get done, empower others more, and now I am very good at delegating!’

Delegating is perhaps even more important these days, because Julie is not just making time for herself, but also for husband Brett and son Jett, who is two years old.

Julie with her son Jett and husband Brett.

Julie did many years of fly in, fly out (FIFO) work in her previous roles, and admits it can be hard when there is a child involved, but she didn’t worry because she knew he was well cared for. Her husband Brett works from home and the couple also has help from Brett’s mother and an experienced child carer – and Fortescue is family-friendly.

‘I was on a really good roster, four days on and three days off. For me it was about mentally getting my head in the right place when I was away, making the most of opportunities and having several quality days off with my family.

‘Our company has a lot of family-friendly initiatives in place. We have job sharing arrangements available for FIFO personnel, family days at site, and childcare facilities for those working in the Perth head office.

‘We also have a career resiliency program for emerging women leaders, and a lot of focus on getting women back to the workplace when they’ve had a family. More than 95 per cent of women who have gone on maternity leave have come back to work.

‘I had so much positive support from operator level to managers, executives, the chairman and the board, through my pregnancy and maternity leave and coming back to work. It was really wonderful.’

She is often asked for advice about getting into the resources sector, and says the most important thing for young people is to understand the broad range of opportunities available and choose something they find interesting and enjoyable.

‘Not many people get the opportunity to visit a mine while at school, but there are other ways to find out. Research career possibilities, attend industry career days and research courses offered by higher education facilities. Choose the right subjects at school to keep your options open.’

Julie’s own decision-making process was very proactive. She went to science summer school during school holidays, did some seriously in-depth research on careers and courses, and used university holidays to get work experience, something she insists is vital.

‘This was key in giving me an early understanding of what the mining industry was about. It made me realise “yeah, I really love this and I want to keep doing it”.’

However university isn’t the only way into the mining industry and Julie is keen to emphasise this. There are a wide range of trades crucial to a mining operation, where women are currently under-represented, and there are other opportunities where expertise is not necessary but a ‘give it a go’ attitude can pay dividends.

‘It’s really about getting a foot in the door the best way you can. I tell people to never give up. I’ve seen women start out doing landscaping, cleaning, support services, trades assistants and other roles. They become well known for their attitude and work ethic, and are then often given other opportunities.

‘It is hard to get into the industry if you don’t know anyone, so I suggest networking opportunities such as AusIMM Women in Mining Network events. And it’s not just about women. Anyone wanting to get started in the industry needs to get involved in groups aligned with the industry because some of the people you meet will help get you a job.’

Her belief in the power of networking led to Julie joining AusIMM in her first year at university. Currently she is a Fellow and a Chartered Professional (Management) of AusIMM, but she is proud of an association that garnered an AusIMM scholarship to help her at university and later a travel grant to study mining in North America. She also became a founding committee member of the AusIMM Perth Student Chapter, and currently serves on the AusIMM Council for Diversity and Inclusion.

‘Attending AusIMM networking events and conferences gave me a great start to my career technically and helped me to start building my networks. Another positive was the free food and drinks, which was a big bonus for a uni student on a tight budget!’ she laughs.

‘I’ve been actively involved for many years now, including speaking at a number of events. Knowing I am part of a professional, world-class institute has been an important part of my career journey.’

Read more from the June 2018 edition of the AusIMM Bulletin.

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