Stone takes charge at Wollongong Coal

When David Stone decided to return to his university town to take up a job at Wollongong Coal, he did spare a thought for the Indian-owned mining company's turbulent past.

But, like the new owners and the company itself - which will officially shake off its Gujarat NRE moniker on March 25 - the recently appointed chief operating officer is looking to the future rather than focusing on past follies.

Mr Stone studied mining engineering at the University of Wollongong before starting a career which took him around the world.

He recently finished working in the United States, where he spent two years rebuilding a Colorado mining business called New Elk Coal, gaining skills which should stand him in good stead in Wollongong.

"I've spent the last 12 months focusing on the financing aspects of the business and raising capital ... the preceding 12 months was about fixing a business that was in trouble," he said.

Speaking to the Mercury at Wollongong Coal's Russell Vale headquarters yesterday, the miner said he had considered the company's future prospects - and credentials of its major shareholder Jindal Steel - before taking up his new role.

"I did a lot of research on Naveen Jindal, and he comes up as an inspiring leader - very honourable and ethical," he said.

Mr Stone says the Illawarra is one of the top four coking coal regions in the world.

"Its proximity to [Port Kembla] gives it a phenomenal competitive advantage and also the quality of the coal, when blended properly and washed, [makes] it close to a benchmark [for] coking coal," he said.

Despite these positives, he also recognised a need to help his workforce recover from last year's events - when hundreds of miners went months without pay and the company teetered on the brink of financial ruin. Since Saturday, Mr Stone has been meeting with workers and outlining his vision for Wollongong Coal - to "create a sustainable business that produces low-cost, high-quality coal".

"What I've said to everyone is that this is a clean slate ... it's about how we behave moving forward, not about blaming what's happened in the past."

He said some of the biggest challenges facing the company over the next two years included getting its expansion plans approved by the NSW government, and increasing its rate of coal extraction to make the mines more profitable.

"This mine has a fabulous future, I wouldn't have joined if I didn't think that, but we've got a difficult 12 to 24 months in negotiating the changes that we need, gaining the permits and creating a culture of success."

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