Kate Hobbs: Energy to burn

Published: 30/04/2013


By Emily Roberts, Highgrade

KATE Hobbs seems to have found a niche in the mining industry. From her graduate days with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, to co-founding uranium exploration company Hindmarsh Resources, and now running Uran Limited, her focus has never strayed too far from a certain radioactive element.

A global search for a uranium mine is presently being conducted from Perth, where Uran is based. It may seem like a strange place to be in the nuclear game since the State Government is not only strongly opposed to uranium mining, but pretty much refuses to acknowledge its importance as an energy source in many countries around the world. But Hobbs needn’t worry about Australian political stances – all her company’s assets are in Eastern Europe. Uran may also soon have a tungsten project in the US.

Hobbs was recruited to Uran in 2006 along with Perth mining identity Michael Kiernan when the company was called Great Western Exploration. With an extensive network of commercial and business contacts in Eastern Europe established when he was managing director of Consolidated Minerals, Kiernan saw huge opportunities for uranium mining in the former Soviet Union countries. Uran now has interests in Ukraine, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria and Uzbekistan.

The company’s growth strategy is still based on acquiring a producing uranium asset or exploration projects with near-term production potential in Eastern Europe. Although much recent attention has focused on Uran’s rejected bid to mine Rozna (the only operating underground uranium mine in the European Union), Hobbs told HighGrade she was currently focused on the company’s Ukranian assets, which include Novogurevskoye, Surskoye and Safonovskoye. Similar to many former Soviet nations, the Ukraine Government is encouraging foreign investment to help modernise its mining practices and increase production.

“This progress reflects major moves forward by Ukraine in its plan to facilitate and encourage investment in its uranium mining industry,” Hobbs said earlier this month. “This is in line with a strategy, announced in January 2007 by energy minister Yuri Boiko, to increase uranium production from 800 tonnes to 1400t by 2010, and to seek to be self-sufficient by 2015.”

When asked if there was a possibility Uran might move its headquarters closer to its exploration activities and perhaps dual-list the company (it is currently listed on the Australian Securities Exchange), Hobbs said it wasn’t her current intention.

“We have got a local office in Prague and we have no doubt that we will set up local office in eastern Ukraine very soon. I don’t think at this stage it’s functional to base myself outside Perth because we are still listed here and the business of the public company is still run here. It’s a bit early to say for a dual listing; we’ll see what happens.”

Hobbs has had a diverse career since graduating from Macquarie University as a geologist. She worked with Agip Nucleare, a subsidiary of Italian multi-national energy group ENI, and the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, and had senior executive roles with Reynolds Australia, New Hampton Goldfields, Grenfell Resources and Metana Minerals. She co-founded gold-nickel company Focus Minerals, before becoming founding director of South Australian-based uranium explorer Hindmarsh Resources. “Focus Minerals was when I went into the corporate side and that was 2001 and before then I had had broad experience around strategic planning and joint ventures and that sort of thing,” Hobbs said.

Inspiration has come largely from first-hand experiences and opportunities rather than specific people, she said. But she did get “inspired by people who did their job very well”. “Kerry Moylan at Reynolds was one person who I always thought had an acute mind and I learnt a lot from him. Of course, there were plenty of people who were generous with their time and advice, and to whom I owe a lot, but it’s just about keeping your eyes and ears open and listening to the good.”

Hobbs said although it was not common for women to work in sedimentary geology, she never thought she was blazing a trail for others to follow. “I never set out to be an ice breaker – I prefer the easy life. It just happened that way,” she said.

“I don’t think it is an inspirational role for others. We all as founders of public companies go through the same ups and downs, and difficulties and successes, and self doubts and that sort of thing. It doesn’t matter how successful the company, you still go through those things. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with gender, it’s just how it is.”

Hobbs said while she encouraged more women to get involved in the industry, she did not think gender was more important than choosing the right person for the job.

“I am going to sound like a dinosaur but I think it’s important to get the best people in senior executive roles,” she said. “If they are women, jolly good. I, for example, would never just hire a person because they were a woman. I find that quite discriminatory and not in the shareholders’ best interest. But if a woman presents herself and is best for the role then I would snaffle her up.”

Hobbs said more women were being drawn to careers in management. “People are coming through and realising it can be done. They have the social setting and skills and so on to be able to do it,” she said.

“I had three children and I didn¿t work when I was having them so you just make choices. Some men, for example, pursue sport at a very high level and that puts their careers down the line. It’s just choices really.”

Where does she see herself in five years?

“I am sure life’s rich tapestry will have evolved further,” Hobbs said.