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Rio Tinto chief executive officer Jakob Stausholm touched on the company’s humble beginnings while celebrating its 2023 successes at the Annual General Meeting (AGM).

“Our very first project was the redevelopment of an ancient copper mine in the south of Spain that gave our company its name,” Stausholm said at the AGM in Perth.

“Buying a loss-making mine with a depleted resource in a country recovering from civil war was seen as mad at the time. But a group of investors in London saw an opportunity. And on 29 March 1873, they formed the Rio Tinto Company to purchase and develop the mine.

“Their vision paid off, and they turned that run-down operation into one of the most profitable mines in Europe.”

This year the company celebrated its 150th year, delivering underlying earnings of US$13.3 billion and a return on capital employed of 25 per cent.

“As a result, the board has recommended a final ordinary dividend of 225 US cents per share, resulting in $8 billion of total returns to you, our shareholders,” Stausholm said.

“This represents a pay-out ratio of 60 per cent, in line with our policy and the second-largest ordinary dividend in our 150-year history.”

This year the company hit several milestones, including acquiring the Platina scandium project in NSW for $14 million; expanding the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia; and reaching separate agreements with BMW Group and Japanese conglomerate Marubeni Corporation to supply Rio’s responsible aluminium to downstream manufacturers.

Stausholm also addressed the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspirations.

“We have been working hard to implement meaningful change in the way we partner, especially with Indigenous peoples and the communities where we work,” Stausholm said.

“A real highlight was the agreement with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people to create the Juukan Gorge Legacy Foundation as part of the remedy for the destruction of the rock shelters in May 2020. This is a significant step forward, but we know it will be a long journey to rebuild trust.”