Vicky Binns: Clear drivers for resilient Binns

Published: 30/04/2013


By Emily Roberts, HighGrade

WHEN analyst Vicky Binns studied mining engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in the 1980s she was one of eight women who started the course. By the end of her first year, she was the only female still enrolled. Her resolve, for which she is renowned, has remained with Binns through a career in which she has forged a reputation as one of the best resources analysts in the field.

Binns heads Merrill Lynch’s global mining, metals and steel research, and is the merchant bank’s primary analyst following BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Alumina. “Rarely off the mark when it comes to commodities and resource stocks” according to a senior Australian financial journalist, she is held in high esteem in a competitive and male-dominated – industry.

Binns graduated in 1986 from UNSW with a Bachelor of Mining Engineering (Hons 1) and completed the Dip Securities Institute of Australia in 1990. She has been in the securities industry since 1993 and prior to that worked some time in underground and opencut coal mining, as well as with Exxon as a petroleum engineer and oil trader. She has also had two children, now aged 8 and 6.

“On the whole, I have always found the industry’s attitude to professional women to be positive,” Binns told HighGrade. “I have never felt as though I could not be promoted in line with work performance or was not given the same opportunities that my male colleagues have been. However, the vastly higher intake of women in technical roles in the mining industry is great to see.”

Although there are not an equal number of men and women in Binns’ research team, the percentage is higher than many would think. In comparison, only 7% of technical roles in the mining industry are held by women, according to latest AusIMM figures. And there were only three female mining engineering graduates at UNSW last year. “In my global mining team, 35% of the mining analysts we have are women. In my Australian research team, 35% of the analysts are women,” Binns said.

Binns believes a modern-day workforce should have broad gender, race and cultural mix to produce a greater array of opinions and ideas. This is what generates excellent think-tanks and breakthroughs, she says. “I think it is very important to attract a broad cross-section of people in any industry workforce – whether it is employing more women or people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The whole point of idea generation is to encourage a pro-active debate in order to make decisions that add value or increase efficiency, and to do this, we need to foster an environment where people are not afraid to speak their mind and offer sometimes “way out” solutions. The women I know in this industry feel they fit in, and in my view are more prepared to speak out, and that’s a real positive”.

Binns says she has had many positive influences in her life and career, and she cites Westpac CEO Gail Kelly and Nelson Mandela as two powerful motivators. “Gail Kelly inspires me professionally as someone who has reached the top of her game as a CEO of a major bank at a relatively young age, yet she has four children and being a mother myself, I know how hard this can be sometimes,” Binns said. “That is why it is important to have a great partner and for you to both make choices which benefit the family. Nelson Mandela inspires me personally as he typifies the “never give up” attitude. No matter how impossible things may seem, if you plan and you push for what you think is right, then it can happen. It makes me very proud to hear my kids sing “Free Nelson Mandela” in the car and want to learn about his life.

“Another positive influence on me is my friend Annie Miller. She is a woman with an incredible skill set who could do anything she wanted, yet she chooses to work for the Cancer Council of NSW and help and provide support for people who are terminally ill and to help their families cope with the changes. This takes immense character, fortitude and resilience.”

As well as getting inspiration from others, Binns takes pride in providing a positive work environment to her colleagues. On the flip side, nurturing staff can also be a key challenge, amongst the many other day-to-day tasks, she says.

“The key challenges in my mining role are to determine if a mining company actually has the asset they say they have, and then work out if the value of that asset is already factored into the equity share price,” she said. “Given such volatile times in financial markets, often the good news gets ignored and bad news gets the company slammed. Either way, fundamentals will prevail in the long term and this is why the mining industry looks to me to be healthy for many years yet.”

“In a management sense, the key challenges are people. Looking after the careers of my team, making sure they are challenged and mentored, as well as being remunerated and promoted on performance. It does give me a kick to see my young team members move on to larger roles both here in Australian and offshore and be successful.”

And if she had to provide encouragement for young girls at her old high school considering a career in the broking or mining industries, Binns has some pertinent advice: “Work hard; be passionate about your job; don’t be too sensitive; be honest and direct – never say you know the answer when you don’t but sure as hell find it out; decide what you want and never give up.”

Article reproduced from HighGrade