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Deakin alumnus Chris Lynch’s journey from trainee accountant to CFO of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton

"You've got to stay current and open to learning” - Chris Lynch

Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are the two largest mining groups in the world – and Chris Lynch has been Chief Financial Officer of both. Currently responsible for the strategy and finances of the entire Rio Tinto group – with a 55,000-strong workforce in 40 countries – Chris credits his enthusiasm for challenge for both his career development and his desire to undertake an MBA at Deakin in 1981.

"I have a commerce degree and an MBA from Deakin and, as I understand it, I was in the first crop of graduates for both," he says. Chris was working for Alcoa in Geelong in 1981, in a senior accounting role, when he started his MBA. "I was 28 and in the fairly early stages of my career, which at that point had developed purely through an accounting stream. I was young, energetic and ambitious and saw an MBA as a good way to broaden my education and skills. What really piqued my interest were the subjects I'd not covered at that time, such as marketing, pure finance and statistics."

According to Chris, in 1981 Deakin's business school had "a really impressive faculty" and the idea of being able to study off-campus was absolutely unique. "It was very appealing because it allowed me to continue my career and not disrupt my family life, while getting my qualifications. This was such new thinking at the time." This was long before the internet revolutionised e-learning and the recommended computer for his course was a Dick Smith System 80. It looked like an electronic typewriter with a built-in cassette recorder and you’d plug it into the television when you needed a screen. "It was the size of a sewing machine! We received all the content we needed for our assignments on audio cassettes and I remember it being such a convenient way to study."

Once his MBA was complete in 1984, Chris's career with Alcoa flourished. It took him around the globe before he was headhunted by BHP in 2000, becoming CFO for the full company after the BHP and Billiton merger. "In 2007 I was asked to contend for the CEO role and ran second in that process, so I figured it was best to let them get on with it while I do something else." So he joined the Transurban Group as Chief Executive in early 2008.

He was a Commissioner of the Australian Football League from 2008 to 2014, and joined the board of Rio Tinto in 2011. He retired from Transurban in July of 2012, having transformed the business model. In 2013, he was asked to consider the CFO role at Rio Tinto as part of an executive transition.

For every step up in his career, Chris stayed open to new challenges. "This really is the key aspect of it. And it's also the key aspect of an MBA. The degree is a challenge in and of itself in terms of time management, studying and your career. But what it encouraged in me was the belief that this world is a changing place and you've got to stay current and open to learning. You need to make sure you can adapt and be agile and move with the changes."

Despite being at the top of his profession, that openness has not changed. “The fact that you choose to do an MBA shows you have a desire to continue to grow… In my case, I still want to keep learning. I enjoy various challenges from different aspects of my role and I don’t think there’s a day that goes past without me learning something new.”


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