Andrew Forrest has sparked a war of words with fellow iron ore billionaire Gina Rinehart after using Fortescue Metals Group's annual report to pour scorn on companies that inherited their assets.
Although Mr Forrest's comments, in his chairman's address in the annual report, did not name Mrs Rinehart or her company Hancock Prospecting, analysts said it was a thinly veiled swipe at his fellow mining magnate.
It is known that Mr Forrest and Mrs Rinehart have clashed, including over the proposed route of her Roy Hill railway line which had to be changed at great additional cost to adhere to Fortescue's operational boundaries.
"Unlike some mining companies, we didn't inherit the assets from which Fortescue was built. We didn't buy and sell them before we developed them. Fortescue was built from the ground up based on grassroots exploration," Mr Forrest wrote in his address.
Mr Forrest's words echo comments he made in a May address to the National Press Club in Canberra, when he talked up the risks the Fortescue founders took when setting up the now multibillion-dollar company. "Take Fortescue. There was no buying and selling of assets before you had even developed them; no inherited wealth," Mr Forrest said at the time. "Fortescue was started by a few friends with big ideas sitting at a kitchen table. Friends prepared to commit every-thing they owned in pursuit of a dream. It was a huge risk. The very real possibility of failure was our constant companion."
Mrs Rinehart takes strong exception to any suggestion her vast wealth came solely from the discoveries made by her father, the late Lang Hancock.
Mr Forrest's comments received short shrift from a senior Hancock executive yesterday, with chief financial officer Jay Newby saying both of Mrs Rinehart's major projects, the Hope Downs joint venture with Rio Tinto and the proposed mine at Roy Hill, were the product of work conducted under her leadership.
"It's a bit strange to say 'inherit' when it is public knowledge that Roy Hill was acquired by our company after Mr Hancock's passing and it is also public knowledge that there was no clear title left in relation to Hope Downs given that both a non-shareholder (over many years) and more recently the Wright family interests, have also contested ownership (the latter being for some, not all, the tenements)," Mr Newby said in a statement.
"The Roy Hill acquisition documents are clearly on the Roy Hill and HPPL websites. Perhaps Mr Forrest doesn't appreciate the vast majority of Mr Hancock's interests had been sold or otherwise dealt with prior to Mrs Rinehart's chairmanship so that the ownership was no longer in the Hancock Prospecting group by that time."
A Fortescue spokeswoman yesterday rejected the suggestion that Mr Forrest's comments were a criticism of Mrs Rinehart.
"Mr Forrest, as he has previously stated numerous times, is making the accurate observation that the iron ore industry in Australia has developed over many decades and generations," she said.
"In contrast, Fortescue was built from the ground up, based on grassroots exploration, in less than a decade. To interpret (Mr Forrest's chairman's address) any other way is simply inaccurate."
Unlike some mining companies, we didn't inherit the assets from which Fortescue was built." Andrew Forrest
It's a bit strange to say 'inherit' when it is public knowledge that Roy Hill was acquired by our company after Mr Hancock's passing. "Hancock executive Jay Newby