Rio Tinto Iron Ore: Challenges of Globalization in the Mining Industry

By David Hoyt, Hau Lee, Samir Singh
2007 | Case No. GS56

In 2006, Rio Tinto Iron Ore (RTIO) faced a number of challenges. The iron ore business had traditionally been dominated by a few large suppliers, who sold to a relatively few large steel producers. The business environment was changing, however, with the rapid development of China. Demand was growing faster than supply, causing increased prices, particularly on the spot market. Most of RTIO’s production was committed to fulfilling long-term contracts, so that it could not fully benefit from the high spot market prices. New entrants, however, were not committed to long-term contracts, and were attracted by these high prices. In addition, many new Chinese iron and steel mills were small operations, geographically disbursed, and did not secure their iron ore supplies before building their plants. An important part of the iron ore supply chain was transportation. Traditionally, customers were responsible for shipping, but this did not meet the needs of small, remotely located Chinese mills. In addition to these changes in the marketplace, RTIO had developed new steelmaking technology that enabled the use of lower quality iron ore and also generated substantially fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional technology. There were a number of possible approaches to commercializing this technology, ranging from vertical integration to licensing.

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