The West

Forrest stalwarts to go in jobs purge (cloned for Pil 1346895537)
Forrest stalwarts to go in jobs purge (cloned for Pil 1346895537)

Some of billionaire Andrew Forrest's most loyal executives have fallen victim to the staff purge sweeping Fortescue Metals Group as the miner tries to cut costs to deal with its big debt burden and a plummeting iron ore price.

Long-serving external affairs chief Julian Tapp, who is credited with helping negotiate State Agreements and securing export space at Port Hedland, and joint company secretary and investor relations head Rod Campbell are among those who have lost their jobs.

Mr Tapp and Mr Campbell had been with the company for as long as eight years.

Market sources said that the loss of Mr Tapp particularly, the mastermind behind Fortescue's State Agreements and negotiations with Port Hedland Port Authority for shipping space, would leave a huge gap in the miner's corporate knowledge.

Even after Fortescue appointed Colin Barnett's former chief of staff Deirdre Willmot as director of external affairs in 2010, Mr Tapp was seen as the main "fixer" when problems arose with State and Federal governments. Mr Campbell's deep relationships with institutional investors would also be missed.

Their departure comes after the resignation last month of another Fortescue stalwart, exploration manager Eamon Hannon, who was regularly lauded publicly by Mr Forrest.

Despite rumours circulating in industry circles yesterday to the contrary, development director Peter Meurs was still with the miner and Fortescue's head of market David Liu also remained in place.

The drastic cuts at Fortescue could result in more than 1000 of its 8000 staff and contractors leaving.

Weeks ago the miner expressed confidence the iron ore price plunge was short term and that cashflow could be improved by cost-cutting without the loss of many jobs. Fortescue launched a "have a crack" program to identify innovations and corporate waste that could cut costs.

But, with budgets based on a $US130 a tonne average iron ore price for the year and downside planning incorporating a worst-case low of $US110/t, Fortescue's board was forced to approve drastic action at a meeting last week. Mr Power was told to find as much as $500 million in savings and summoned key executives away from Father's Day celebrations on Sunday to tell them to prepare to implement savage cuts to their departments.

WestBusiness understands some senior staff made redundant on Tuesday were being assured as recently as last week their positions were safe. Departments not directly involved in the production and sale of iron ore were mauled.

Almost all staff in the community development department went along with at least half of the staff in Fortescue's environment, indigenous heritage and land access sections.

One worker described seeing "rows of empty desks" as employees made their rounds of the office for farewells.

The West Australian

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