Rio Tinto’s incoming chief executive Jakob Stausholm is facing an uphill battle to get to WA as soon as possible amid COVID-19 restrictions and a busy first quarter schedule at the mining giant’s London headquarters. The new Danish mining boss may not be seen in WA for weeks despite the State being the heartland of its earnings and the stage of its recent crisis. COVID travel restrictions mean he would be subject to a 14-day hotel quarantine if he travelled from Britain to Australia. He will also have to present Rio’s full-year results on February 17 and be in attendance at the company’s annual meeting in London, likely to be scheduled in April. In a statement, Mr Stausholm, said he was planning to travel to WA and the Pilbara “as soon as possible in the New Year, pending any COVID-19 restrictions”. A delayed appearance in the State could give greater traction to calls for Rio to move its global headquarters from London to Perth to be closer to the company’s Pilbara iron ore operations, which accounted for 90 per cent of its underlying earnings in the six months to July. In September, WA Premier Mark McGowan said it was only natural and right that companies which had a significant operational workforce in WA also based their headquarters in the State. Rio tapped its chief financial officer on Thursday to take the helm from the outgoing Jean-Sebastien Jacques after the company endured global condemnation for destroying two ancient Indigenous rock shelters in the Pilbara. Mr Stausholm’s appointment was greeted with consternation by some local politicians, who had called on the mining giant to appoint an Australian following the Juukan Caves disaster. But Wesfarmers chairman Michael Chaney and former Rio boss Sam Walsh yesterday dismissed complaints about Mr Stausholm. Mr Walsh said he suspected Rio’s board had chosen Mr Stausholm because he was a “known element” and was “not coming in from the cold”. “He (Mr Stausholm) understands the company and he understands the importance of the relationships with the Aboriginal people which is going to be essential for them as they go forward,” he said. “He’s lived through the Juukan Gorge experience and that will provide salutary guidance for him.” Mr Stausholm joined Rio as chief financial officer in 2018, long before May’s Juukan disaster, and has previous experience in WA while a board member of Woodside Petroleum between 2006 and 2008. Mr Chaney, who was Woodside chairman when Mr Stausholm was on the WA oil and gas producer’s board, said Mr Stausholm “appreciates the complexity of issues” and was “not burdened with a big ego”. He also described him as “very measured” and “very bright” and said he had very good commercial judgment. “I think he’s the right person for the job, actually,” he said. “They should have appointed the best person for the job, Australian or otherwise. “Rio is a big international company with assets in many different countries, and if they had found an Australian who was the best person for the job, great. They happened to find a Dane.” Mr Walsh, who was Mr Jacques’ predecessor and the company’s last Australian chief executive between 2013 and 2016, also noted there were many Australians in senior managerial roles within Rio. “The CEO is important but so is the team that you’ve got supporting you,” he said. “When you are the CEO of a company the size of Rio Tinto, you understand very quickly that you’re relying on the help and assistance of every single employee wherever they are.” The change of leadership at Rio comes after the company blasted two ancient indigenous rock shelters in the Pilbara in May as part of its mining operations at the Brockman 4 minesite. The incident, which destroyed the heritage sites that had documented evidence of human habitation dating back 46,000 years, raised the ire of the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and prompted global condemnation of the company. The ensuing outcry led to a Federal parliamentary inquiry and ultimately forced the departure of three senior Rio executives including Mr Jacques.