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Nov. 29, 2017, 10:05 p.m. EST

Fortescue promotes CFO Elizabeth Gaines to CEO

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By Robb M. Stewart

MELBOURNE, Australia--Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. (FMG.AU) has tapped finance chief Elizabeth Gaines to lead the iron-ore company, taking over from outgoing Chief Executive Nev Power.

Ms. Gaines, a director of the Australian company since 2013, took on the role of chief financial officer in February, about seven months before Mr. Power announced plans to retire early next year after seven years as CEO.

Fortescue has flagged a more aggressive dividend payout for shareholders even as it continues to chip away at debt, although in recent months it has struggled with steeper-than-anticipated discounts for the grades of iron ore it ships to China from its operations in Australia's western Pilbara region.

Ms. Gaines will be the third CEO of Fortescue since it was founded in 2003 by now Chairman Andrew Forrest as a challenger to larger Australian rivals Rio Tinto PLC (RIO.LN) and BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP.AU). In recent years, it has focused on cutting debt built up by developing mines, a rail network and port facilities that have positioned it as the world's fourth-largest exporter of the steel-making ingredient. More recently, the company said it had begun exploring for other resources that could broaden its focus.

In a statement, Ms. Gaines said she was "privileged and humbled" to be chosen as the company's next CEO.

With her appointment, Mr. Forrest said current corporate finance manager Ian Wells would be promoted to chief financial officer. Julie Shuttleworth, general manager of Fortescue's Solomon mining operation, would take on the new role of deputy CEO and director of operations. Greg Lilleyman will become chief operating officer.

"Elizabeth will lead an organization where every person seeks advice from their immediate principal as opposed to industry accepted management method of upwards unilateral authority," Mr. Forrest said, adding that directors would be called on to step in on an occasional and part-time capacity to help drive Fortescue's product diversification and asset development.

Mr. Power earlier this year said he would step down in February, initially to spend more time with his family.

Write to Robb M. Stewart at robb.stewart@wsj.com

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