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New PN boss sets up old mining rivalry

Pacific National class 92 locomotives hauling a coal train over a rail bridge crossing the Hunter River at Singleton NSW. Photo: Creative Commons / Bluedawe

Former BHP Billiton coal boss Dean Dalla Valle will replace David Irwin as chief executive officer of Pacific National, the bulk and intermodal operator announced on Monday.

Dalla Valle left BHP Billiton in March, after 40 years at the mining giant. He served most recently as its chief commercial officer, responsible for the marketing and distribution of commodities, and was the president of its international coal business prior to that.

The Pacific National appointment sets Dalla Valle up to go head-to-head with Andrew Harding, the chief executive of Pacific National’s major competitor, Aurizon.

Harding took over at Aurizon in December 2016, after a 24-year career at Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton’s biggest Australian rival.

Pacific National executive chairman Russell Smith said Dalla Valle had been chosen for his background in managing large, capital intensive businesses, and for his supply chain management experience.

“As CEO, Dean will be extremely well placed to lead Pacific National as we continue to deliver on the company’s plans to strengthen and grow the business, leveraging the expected expansion in the national freight task over coming years,” Smith said.

The Monday announcement also confirmed earlier reports of David Irwin’s departure, after roughly eight years in the chief executive role. Irwin will stay on in an advisory role, with Dalla Valle set to join the business on July 17.

“The company is stronger for [Irwin’s] leadership and I know we will continue to benefit from his deep knowledge of the freight and logistics sector in the future,” Smith said.

The Australian Logistics Council welcomed Dalla Valle’s appointment.

“At a time of considerable change in the Australian freight logistics industry, Dean Dalla Valle’s experience and insights will be a welcome addition to the policy debate,” the ALC said in a statement.

Irwin, who is an ALC director, began his tenure as Pacific National boss while it was still part of ASX-listed Asciano.

Asciano, which also included the Patrick container port business, was broken up and sold off in a major takeover move in 2016, effectively de-listing the Pacific National business.

Pacific National is now owned 32% by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, 27% by Global Infrastructure Partners (of which Smith is an Australian partner), 16% by China’s CIC Capital, and 12% each by GIC and British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.

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