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  • Rob Chenery leaves for Wollongong after a 25 year involvement in Newcastle    
    Sunday, September 17 2006 @ 10:31 PM
    Contributed by: rchenery

    GeneralI was promoted at 35 years of age to Assistant General Manager of BHP’s Newcastle Works 1981-85, and almost immediately in 1982 faced a head office announcement to close the works. One year before the introduction of the Steel Industry Plan I planned and executed the reorganisation of Newcastle Steelworks ultimately extending the works life from 1982 to 1999. Sadly a large number of people became redundant in the first year but departures were all by voluntary redundancy. These were older workers that retired or populated Tomago Aluminium and other developing areas such as power plants and small business. The Steel Industry Plan did not provide capital to redevelop Newcastle works. The conversion to 100% bloom casting was championed by myself. As chairman of the BHP donations committee I voted seed money for the Shortland Wetland Centre and to re-start professional soccer in Newcastle. I was appointed General Manager Collieries Division 1985-86 where I re-organised Illawarra Collieries and set up Collieries head office in Newcastle. I widely extended the use of long-wall mining, and was also appointed Chairman, Kooragang Coal Loader Pty Ltd.

    During this period I authorised a land swap that transferred large areas of BHP land to coastal reserves. In 1987-89 he was General Manager Planning & Development of BHP Steel in Melbourne and understudying the CEO Steel. During the period as Group General Manager Rod & Bar Products Division 1989-91 the works suffered the Newcastle earthquake in 28th December 1989, celebrated the 75th year of operation in 1990. I was set back when the CEO Steel refused to hear development strategies for Newcastle. It was during this time that I was an inaugural member of the HEDC and chaired for the Newcastle & Regional Chamber of Commerce the planning for the recognition and development of the Newcastle Airport as the hub operation for future jet based needs of the Hunter. I also served as area President for the Scout Association.


    In March 1991 I accepted to work overseas as Chairman and CEO to run the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation. I was recruited over a 3 year period by a Melbourne investor. W-P was a Fortune 500 Company in the USA that was nominated the No1 investment in 1993 by Fortune Magazine. Mr Chenery returned home September 1993.

    In a move to change life-style I have since worked as a Professional Non-executive Company Director for a large number of small to medium enterprises, including community, private, and listed companies on the ASX. Initially I joined the boards of Varley Holdings Pty Ltd and Ampcontrol Pty Ltd. In 1994 was subjected to some publicity by paying $1million for two unit lots to form a harbour side penthouse in the historic East End of Newcastle while extolling the benefits of inner city living. I have been a company director on a total of 40 Boards since 1981 including many community organisations, and 20 since 1994. I remained a director of two local companies namely Varley (private) and CCI (listed). In both cases the companies started will very poor balance sheets and by 2006 it can be reported that they had grown remarkably with strong balance sheets.

    Voluntary community involvement since 1994 started by joining the Newcastle and Hunter Chamber of Commerce and proceeded to produce a pre-feasibility study on light rail to Newcastle station. This study was not pursued by the NSW government but the activity started the chamber’s Infrastructure and Transport Committee that continued to support appropriate development. I served 2 years as Hunter President of Australian Business Limited where I negotiated the merger with Newcastle and Hunter Chamber of Commerce. I became the Inaugural President of the Hunter Business Chamber which created Australia’s largest regional business organisation. After 3 years leading these two organisations I stepped down to become a Board member of ABL in Sydney. I participated in the successful Hunter Health Reference Group that gained community support for the development of John Hunter Hospital and the Marter Hospital. The Prime Minister appointed me Co-Chair of the Prime Ministers Task Force on the recommendation of the late Mr Maurie Rudd the Secretary of the AWU when the Steelworks closure was announced by BHP in 1998. The PM’s Taskforce helped ensure that political promises that led to the formation of funds of $10 million from each of Federal, State, and BHP to assist the transition of the Newcastle community to cope with the closure of BHP’s steelworks. The taskforce advised the Federal Minister on many of the grants. It also was instrumental with BHP to set up the $1.5m BHP Welfare Trust and the $3.5m BHP Development Trust. Further, it reported to the PM on economic impacts of the closure. I was Chairman, Salvation Army Advisory Board in the Hunter for 3 years. As President Royal Newcastle Aero Club I led the establishment of environmental rules for operation of the 75 year old flying club and negotiated the development of a 75Ha industrial park, and reduced debt by half ensuring viability of this member owned and operated airfield whilst general aviation airports were on decline and closing. While 10 years a Director of Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club Newcastle harbour’s first recreational marina was established and achieved an excellence award. As Trustee of the BHP Development Trust, BHP money was granted to applicants over an 8 year period towards the creation of 1400 direct jobs after the closure of the BHP steel works on 22nd September 1999. That in conjunction with other people’s efforts and private enterprise brought unemployment in the lower Hunter from 50% over State average to about State average.

    I have had a significant career in local, national and international steelmaking, and over a span of 25 years has been involved in Newcastle’s community and business. After a bout of ill health I have now sold my penthouse and from mid October 2006 return to Wollongong to be close to family and grandchildren in my 7th decade.

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