Wollongong-raised Mark Cutifani has ascended to one of the world's most powerful mining jobs, more than 35 years after cutting his teeth underground at Coalcliff Colliery.
The 54-year-old mining engineer was this week confirmed the new chief executive of London-based Anglo American, one of the big five global mining houses.
His current position, at the helm of African goldminer AngloGold, has kept him and his family based in turbulent Johannesburg for more than five years.
The plain-speaking Mr Cutifani began his working life in 1976 in the Coalcliff Colliery as a trainee for Kembla Coal and Coke (bought by Illawarra Coke Company in 1984 and now slated for closure).
He worked as an underground production miner while studying engineering part time at the University of Wollongong.
"I probably wasn't the most productive of the miners, I have to say," Mr Cutifani said yesterday from Johannesburg.
"The guys there were 20 and 30 years experienced and I was there to learn. It was tough work. People worked hard to earn their money.
"I made many great friendships. I was very, very lucky."
Mr Cutifani said his time underground and the loss of a friend - Stanley - to an underground roof collapse at Coalcliff in the late 1970s had influenced his attitude to worker safety at AngloGold, where nine people died during his first two months as chief executive.
Safety was the company's third priority then. He made it its first and worked to reduce the fatality rate by 75 per cent in the first nine months of his tenure.
"[Stanley] was one of the guys that looked after me when I was a young miner and I will never forget him," he said. "It was a tragedy."
Anglo American has operations in 10 countries on four continents, including coal operations in Queensland and in Drayton, NSW, with a corporate office in Brisbane. The company exports about 26 million tonnes of coal annually via Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal, Gladstone Port Corporation and Port Waratah Coal Services.
He regularly returns to Wollongong to visit his mother Barbara, and family and friends.
"Pass on my regards to all my past Shamrocks [Rugby Club friends]," he said.