From small town to big mining region, a thought leader rises

Elsabe Muller underlines the value of inclusion and diversity, particularly female participation. Image: Photographic Memory

BHP’s Jimblebar mine wouldn’t see the advancement it does today if it wasn’t for Elsabe Muller.

Growing from humble beginnings in South African farming town, Frankfort, Elsabe Muller has soared to a 24-year career spanning four continents with BHP before pioneering the company’s vision – to be fully integrated and highly automated.

Muller achieved this at the Jimblebar mine, where she was a fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) general manager that spearheaded BHP Iron Ore’s first fully autonomous haulage site in November last year.

Through the integration of the technology, Jimblebar experienced more than 80 per cent reduction in significant events and achieved record production year on year. 

Under Muller’s leadership, she ensured a culture of inclusion and diversity was instilled in the mine – a topic close to her heart.

As she embarks on her new role as asset president of BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal (BMC) and New South Wales Energy Coal (NSWEC), Muller was awarded with the CRC Industries Mine Manager of the Year honour at the 2018 Prospect Awards.

Muller, accepting the award in Sydney, pays tribute to her team: “Thank you for the recognition, but I think this award is really a recognition of the exceptional talent and the commitment of the team at the Jimblebar iron ore mine at BHP.

“I can’t help to comment on the fact that within BHP, there’s a significant focus on inclusion and diversity and developing talent.

“I was just the result of those development opportunities within the company, and so I hope by receiving this award, I encourage more females to join the mining industry.

“It’s really an exciting time in the industry. And if you’re looking for a company that really develops their people, come join BHP.”

Muller, with experience in five commodities, has built extensive professional tenure at BHP that allowed her to set foot in many parts of the world, from South Africa, the Netherlands, Singapore and recently, to Australia.

Prior to her roles at the Jimblebar mine, Muller was general manager of integrated production and remote operations, and general manager of non-process infrastructure at BHP in Western Australia.

She also held various international roles at BHP, including global general manager marketing, manganese in Singapore, operations manager at the Middelburg mine, and senior projects manager (energy coal) in South Africa.

As a keen promoter of early science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, Muller has also been involved in a number of community engagement activities. This includes the Newman community in the Pilbara in Western Australia, 41km east from BHP’s Jimblebar mine operation.

Muller, speaking at the International Women’s Day event in Newman, credits her family’s role in paving the way to success.

“As part of the rural culture when I grew up, there were limited opportunities and encouragement for females to pursue professional careers. In my high school class of 30, I was the only female who went to university, let alone begin a career in the male-dominated mining industry.

“One of the key differences between me and the other girls in my class, was the fact that I received a lot of encouragement from my parents. From a young age I believed in reaching for my dreams, just like my brothers.

“When my mother passed away, I was only 10 years old, but I already had a sense that I could achieve anything I set my mind to.”

Muller underlines the power of encouragement as something that could change one’s life, and the advantage and ability of a small community to provide inclusive environments. 

She passes on the business value of diversity and inclusion in her presentations at various industry conferences, including at the Hong Kong Stock Exchange where she was a keynote speaker.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Australian Mining.

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