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Prolific mining entrepreneur and BRW Rich 200 member Ken Talbot was among those who died when the plane he had chartered with six Sundance Resources colleagues, including the entire board, crashed on June 19 en route from Yaoundé in the Republic of Cameroon to Yangadou in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Talbot’s development of pulverised coal injection (PCI) technology as an alternative to hard coking coal in steel production put him up with Lang Hancock in the pantheon of Australian mining pioneers.
The innovation would transform Macarthur Coal’s lesser-quality coal at its Coppabella mine into a lucrative, but cheaper, alternative to the more expensive coking coal.
“Ken saw the opportunity to get a premium price for that coal by marketing it successfully to the steel mills,” Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche says. “The whole success of Macarthur Coal was the opening up and the acceptance from customers of PCI coal.”
Talbot developed an array of impeccable contacts within the main industrial enterprises and steel mills of Japan, China, South Korea, Europe and India, and facilitated a partnership with Chinese conglomerate CITIC Group.
The partnership saw CITIC become the main investor in Macarthur Coal as Talbot floated the company on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2001. By 2008, Talbot engineered the sale of his 19.76 per cent stake in the miner, leaving him with a fortune estimated to be worth about $760 million.
Allegations of corruption lingered over the sometimes controversial magnate until his death.
He was scheduled to face trial in Brisbane in August over allegations that he paid nearly $300,000 in secret commissions to former state government minister Gordon Nuttall (who has been convicted of accepting payments and is serving a sentence).
After stepping down from Macarthur Coal, Talbot was unable to resist further mining investment, turning his focus to a range of smaller resource companies.
He took substantial holdings in mining and energy companies through his wholly owned private investment company Talbot Group.
The group comprises an asset base worth more than $550 million, with interests in minerals exploration and operations, energy exploration and development, financial investments, and a substantial property portfolio.
Talbot also made a successful investment in Mozambique coalminer Riversdale Mining, although he had subsequently sold his stake to focus on his own interests in that nation.
He is listed among the top 20 shareholders in more than a dozen companies. His financial stake in the ASX-listed international iron ore company Sundance Resources came about through his close relationship with former Sundance chairman George Jones and the lure of iron ore and another investment opportunity.
“Any mere mortal would have been happy to tuck [Talbot’s fortune] away in the banks and enjoy the rest of their lives, but Ken has invested in a vast array of mining enterprises,” Jones says.
Jones was responsible for bringing Talbot onto the board of the West African iron ore miner and facilitated the purchase of the mine that Talbot was on his way to visit before the plane he and his colleagues chartered crashed.
Their friendship began in the late 1980s when the pair worked on neighbouring coalmines some 140 kilometres south-west of Mackay, Queensland. Talbot had already shown signs of his entrepreneurial talent, as part of a consortium that started up the Jellinbah East coalmine, and was in the formative years of what would become Macarthur Coal.
Jones was the executive chairman of coalminer Portman Mining. “Being neighbours, I made it my job to get to know Ken,” he says. “He saw an opportunity that no one else could and worked on the development of the PCI concept and turned what was lower-grade ore into what is quite valuable.”
Jones stepped down as chairman of Sundance Resources in August last year, but has stepped in as a strategic adviser as the company deals with the tragic death of Talbot, along with chairman Geoff Wedlock, managing director Don Lewis, company secretary John Carr-Gregg, non-executive director John Jones, non-executive director Craig Oliver, consultant Jeff Duff, and Natasha Flason of the Talbot Group.
Reflecting on the life of his close friend and business partner, Jones describes Talbot as “one of the giants”.
At the time of the crash, Talbot’s wife Amanda was holidaying in France. He is survived by four children; he was 59.