Challenge and change at the top

The Australian 
17 November 2017, by Sarah Jane-Tasker

Amanda Lacaze
CEO, Lynas Corporation

​Amanda Lacaze is at her best when taking on a challenge others might deem insurmountable. The shareholders of Lynas are thankful for the energy she throws at every task: her laser-like focus has steered the minerals company through a near-collapse and into calmer waters.

Before taking on the role as chief executive of the Australian-listed company in 2014, Lacaze had earnt a solid reputation. The straight-talking chief, often referred to as a turnaround specialist, has had stints at Nestle, ICI, Orica and Telstra. Her challenges included turning around Commander Communications, but Lynas has proved her biggest challenge.

Only two years ago, one industry analyst gave the company a 50-50 chance of survival. Lacaze has previously noted it was “almost sliding down a cliff” when she stepped in, and says it was one of the reasons she was appointed.

World rare-earth prices boomed in 2011 when China, the world’s largest producer, restricted exports. At the time, Lynas’s shares were trading as high as $2.25. But then China eased its export controls, dumping its product on the market and sending the Lynas share price down to 14c in June 2014,

When Lacaze took over as chief executive.she had to slash 300 of the 1000-strong staff and close the Sydney head office. She was forced to renegotiate the company’s debt facilities, slash operating costs and revamp its Malaysian processing operation. She also had to work through initial difficult issues with some Malaysian interest groups, and boost production levels at the plant in Kuantan, Malaysia. Market talk suggests Lacaze’s strategy helped turn a company heading for collapse into an efficient, viable business. Lynas is now the only producer of rare earths outside China, after last year’s collapse of the US-based Molycorp.

She writes in the annual report that the experience and success achieved over the past year demonstrates Lynas’s expertise with its product. Investors will likely add that it’s the chief’s expert control and ability to make the tough decisions that has set the company on a smoother path.