Sam Walsh gets new gig at global trader Mitsui

In a rare move for corporate Japan, Rio Tinto’s former chief executive, the Australian Sam Walsh, has been nominated to join the board of trading giant Mitsui & Co.

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Japan’s trading houses such as Mitsubishi Corp and Mitsui and Co have had longstanding links with Rio, initially via its Hamersley Iron unit, which was developed to supply Japan’s steel mills with iron ore. More recently, they have taken direct equity in large resource developments such as the North West Shelf gas export project in Western Australia.

Mr Walsh ran Rio’s iron ore division, which included Hamersley operations, before taking the helm at Rio Tinto at the beginning of 2013.

More recently, he has been caught up in allegations surrounding $US10.5 million of payments made by the global miner to gain access to the Simandou iron ore reserves in Guinea, with Rio recently deciding to withhold part of his retirement payments pending the conclusion of investigations into the affair. Mr Walsh has maintained he always acted lawfully while at Rio.

Mr Walsh said he was both pleased and honoured to have been nominated as a non-executive director at the global trader.

“Mitsui is a company that I greatly admire as the result of a business relationship which spans almost four decades, including my time at GMH, Nissan and more recently Rio Tinto,” Mr Walsh said. “The diversity and international reach of the business is something that certainly appeals, including its strong involvement in commodities, manufacturing and ongoing commitment to innovation.

Mr Walsh noted that Mitsui and Co had an involvement in Australia dating back to 1901.

“Mitsui has invested around $15 billion in Australia over the past decade alone, is one of this country’s largest corporate taxpayers and fourth largest exporter of natural resources and agricultural commodities. It makes a very sizeable contribution,” he said.

Mitsui handles a range of Australian exports include iron ore, oil, gas, coal, salt, woodchip and wheat, while the local joint ventures in which it participates employ more than 20,000 people, he said.

His appointment is to commence from mid-year.

There have been a small number of non-Japanese businessmen appointed to run Japanese companies and sit on their boards in recent years, such as French national Carlos Ghosn to run Nissan Motor Co and more recently his countryman Christophe Weber, who was appointed to lead Takeda Pharmaceutical, one of the country’s largest drug companies.

Mr Walsh served as a long-time vice president of the Australia Japan Business Cooperation Committee. In 2014, he invited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit the Pilbara and hosted this visit.