It speaks volumes of the relatively low profile Gina Rinehart has kept that a friend of mine, whose boss was due to meet with her for a very high-level meeting just two years ago mistook her for the sandwich lady and asked for some refreshments.
And if it weren’t for the flurry of media attention that has gravitated toward the mining magnate of late, you might still be asking ‘just who is she exactly’?
She keeps to herself but here’s what we do know: she is Australia’s richest person with an estimated wealth of almost $20 billion (a more recent BRW estimate puts that at $16 billion, depending on iron prices) and if her worth continues to skyrocket at millions of dollars a day as it is said to, she may well be the richest person in the world in the very near future. There’s even talk of breaking through the $100 billion barrier, though that appears to be a guess at best.
And while her story is in itself a one of intrigue, largesse and family court battles, she’s also flexing impressive muscle in Australia’s media landscape, so it might be worth getting used to one Gina Rinehart having more to do with your day-to-day life than ever before.
How does one become a mining magnate anyway?
Gina’s childhood was a perfect storm of elements that would lead her, without any other apparent option, into mining. It was what she knew. Her father Lang Hancock practically stumbled on to the the world’s largest iron ore deposit in the 1950s. He was flying across Western Australia’s Pilbara region when he was forced to divert through a gorge due to bad weather and noticed the ridges were basically iron. It had rusted.
But he would have to lobby for almost a decade to be able to even claim the discovery – or reveal it to anyone – because laws at the time said he couldn’t. Back then it was thought Australia was short on resources and had bugger-all in the ground. We know that’s a flat misfire of the truth nowadays, but it explains why the authorities were skittish in letting anyone else have control over it.
When her father eventually won the right to the land – and its bounty – he signed a deal with mining giant Rio Tinto (then called Hamersley Iron) to develop it and reap the profits. The mine, Hope Downs, regurgitates 30 million tonnes of iron ore annually. Gina, as the controller of the business Hancock Prospecting, receives a hefty cut.
It was this mine and her father’s wealth that Gina stood to inherit as Hancock’s only child (he was worth $150 million when he died) if not for her step-mum Rose Porteous who she famously battled for over a decade in the courts to swing the 50:50 split in her favour.
That inheritance in 1992 (worth $75 million to Rinehart) put her on the BRW rich list for the first time, but it’s what Rinehart did next that truly saw her step from her father’s shadow.
The making of Gina Rinehart
Rinehart didn’t just inflate her wealth by trading on the luck of the iron ore price – at near historic highs. It came as a result of impeccably astute investments in mining, in infrastructure associated with those mines and savvy deals with big miners that can get production underway and foot some of the massive costs involved.
Rinehart’s second iron ore mine follows this model and will start exporting in 2014 … after a $7 billion set-up cost.
She is said to be able to talk about mines and mining relentlessly and knows the ins and outs of the industry like few others. You get the sense she doesn’t just work in mining, but it is her life. Her real child.