Jeremy Weir’s career at Trafigura almost
stumbled before it began. The Melbourne, Australia-born
geologist-turned-derivatives-trader was heading to meet one of
the commodities trading house’s founding partners,
Claude Dauphin, for dinner. Weir already had an idea in advance
that the dinner was effectively an interview, on both sides,
for a role at the company.
But a rail strike meant Weir was delayed, arriving 45
minutes late to the meeting at Wiltons, a restaurant in Jermyn
Street, London. "I was pretty embarrassed!" recalled Weir, now
Trafigura’s CEO. Fortunately, French-born Dauphin
– who had approached Weir through a contact –
brushed it off, and the pair had a "great conversation," Weir
said. Former Trafigura CEO Dauphin was, Weir recalled, an
"extremely persuasive, flamboyant and interesting
The upshot of the meeting was that Weir took a job at
Trafigura, becoming its head of metal derivatives trading,
structured products and risk management. "It [the role] was
probably a little bit different to what I thought it was going
to be," he told Metal Market Magazine. "I had views on what we
could do in asset management and other things; I think Claude
had wanted me for another role, but he let me set up an asset
It was 2001, just before Enron became the largest corporate
bankruptcy in US history to date and ahead of the commodities
super-cycle that would lift metals, energy and agricultural
products prices in a multi-year bull run. For Weir, it was
about time commodities were in the spotlight.
"I remember being in the City after the Big Bang of 1986
deregulated the financial markets, and watching the boom in
equities, bonds, foreign exchange – everybody had
their go and we were sitting there as commodity traders
wondering when it would be our time," Weir said. "And then the
industry took off. The companies that were part of that
business, including the trading houses, really excelled," he
Weir’s background is in mining. Born in
Melbourne, Australia in 1964, he has a Bachelor of Science
degree in Geology from the University of Melbourne. "I worked
[in] student geology for a while in central western Australia.
Then commercial roles came up in the mining sector which I
thought fitted my skills. That was interesting," Weir
This included a stint as a marketing executive at Australian
mining company North Ltd, owner of Electrolyic Zinc Co of
Australasia, which eventually became Pasminco. It was here that
Weir learnt a lot about non-ferrous metals and minerals,
including zinc, and became passionate about the
When the global producer price for zinc came to an end,
"nobody knew about hedging" at Pasminco, Weir said; so he
stepped in, assuming a risk management role. Weir wanted to
travel. He moved to London, where he worked in derivatives and
ran the company’s hedging book.
In 1992, as banks started to expand into base metals and
other minerals, Weir joined N M Rothschild. Initially, he was a
derivatives trader at the bank. He later became global head of
metals derivatives and a director.
"There was an explosion in what was happening [in metals],
and I moved across to Rothschild in Australia, working in risk
management, running books, structured finance, and doing a bit
of advisory work too," Weir said. "I then moved to London,
expanding the role as a main board director," he added. It was
while working at Rothschild that Trafigura became a client,
opening the path to the fateful dinner with Dauphin.
The path to CEO
Working with Dauphin was, Weir said, "a great run." Weir became
an all-rounder, working throughout the company’s
business units, including mining, mineral concentrates, risk
management, finance, mergers and acquisitions, and asset
Having always been on the metals side, including iron ore
and coal, Weir expanded his role into Trafigura’s
oil businesses at a corporate level. "That was probably him
[Dauphin] grooming me, a little bit unbeknown to me, to take
over his role," Weir acknowledged.
Diagnosed in March 2014 with lung cancer, Dauphin understood
that he had to make some decisions at Trafigura and set about
establishing a transition while remaining active in the
business. He named Weir – nicknamed
'Kangaroo’ by Dauphin because the Australian could
not speak French – his successor that same
Weir never expected to be a future Trafigura CEO –
"I probably nearly got sacked three or four times!" –
but said he and Dauphin "got along very well and towards the
end became very close personally."
"It was a bit of an 'Oh my goodness’ moment. I
went home to my wife and I said, 'Houston we have a
problem!’" he laughed. "The thing is
it’s a big organization and a big responsibility.
People often say, 'How do you sleep at night?’,
but I have no problem sleeping at all. You just have to take
everything in your stride."
The appointment was signed off by the partners – a
group of individuals Weir works closely with and has very high
"Ultimately these transitions are not easy, but what I enjoy
so much is the fact that I’ve got some great
partners and it’s a very active environment," he
said. "We can have all kinds of debates and sometimes you
don’t agree with a decision, but once there is
consensus, it’s quick and you get on with the job
and move on to the next thing. From that point of view,
it’s such a pleasure, it really is," he
That approach is part of a DNA instilled by Dauphin within
Trafigura, Weir said, which is "very critical for the success
of our organization."
"When things go wrong, you need people to sit around a table
and talk, and intelligent people will find a way out. What you
don’t want is having people ostracized in a
corner, victimized and taking three months to make a decision,"
Weir told Metal Market Magazine.
"The company has grown, and it’s changed a lot.
It’s not an organization with a single figure in
charge – it’s a real partnership, and
what I try and do is guide that partnership and be a steward of
it, amongst some very intelligent and driven people. The
governance structure has probably changed too as it has
adapted; the company has grown up too," he added.
Weir said he could "fill a page" with lessons learnt from
Dauphin, but highlighted several, including fast
decision-making processes, not being frightened to make
mistakes but always correcting them properly, getting out to
speak to people, and remembering that while the company
operates across different cultures and continents, it is not a
political or religious organization.
"Wherever it may be, it’s business. And work
hard is the other thing!" Weir added.
While the work ethic – and the dinner parties at
home – are common to both men, Weir’s
style is at the same time different from Dauphin. "Claude was
very much a hands-on guy; I like to think I’m
hands on and understand the business in detail, but
you’ve got to give people the autonomy to make
decisions, and delegate authority so they can get on and run
the business," he said.
"It is a different style of management but in
today’s world, adapting is important. It
doesn’t make us [Trafigura] less efficient
– we’re very, very efficient. I think we
[Claude and I] just worked differently," Weir added. Dauphin
died in September 2015.
Just as Weir’s career evolved, so too did the
Trafigura that he joined. The company, founded in 1993 by
several former Marc Rich top executives, had struggled in some
areas in the early years as it battled for business in a
fiercely competitive, over-supplied commodities
When Weir joined in 2001, Trafigura reported revenues of
under $10 billion; last year, that figure was $171.5 billion.
The company now has 80 offices in 41 countries, with business
units in metals, oil, power & renewables and shipping.
While oil buoyed the business initially, Trafigura
eventually found a winning formula for its activities in
metals. As the company evolved, Trafigura launched private
investment arm Galena Asset Management in 2003, boosted its
trade financing activities and began investing in companies and
infrastructure that streamline and simplify supply chains,
including mining projects, terminals, storage, production and
These now include logistics provider Impala Terminals, major
zinc and lead smelter Nyrstar, and Trafigura Mining Group,
which operates the Catalina Huanca lead and zinc mine in Peru
and is active in Brazil and Cuba.
But Weir told Metal Market Magazine this evolution should
not be mistaken for a shift towards a combined trading-asset
ownership model; nor is the company, which is exclusively owned
by its management and active employees, gearing for an initial
"First and foremost, we’re a commercial trading
company – that is the engine room. The businesses
around that are supplementary to the commercial businesses. The
fact is, if you really want to go big time into mining,
it’s a pretty heavy load from a capital structure
point of view, with all sorts of complexities around it," he
"Quite frankly, to be big in mining we’d have
to have a publicly listed vehicle like Glencore, but we would
never IPO the mothership. We have no problem with assets being
in a PLC and having partnerships – but the mothership
should be private. The market does not understand trading
companies’ balance sheets. But the banks do
– they totally get it," Weir noted.
"Therefore, the people that are really deep in and
understand the industry get it. Those that aren’t
don’t get it, so therefore when the chips are down
and you’re having a bit of a bumpy period, all of
a sudden you’re facing incoming [criticism and
challenges] everywhere. I don’t want to be in that
position," he added.
Instead, the company pursues what Weir called "almost
commando-style mining" – that is, it sees an
opportunity, follows it, and once it has realised the value,
exits or part exits, rotating the capital.
"Never fall in love with assets – if they
don’t work, get rid of them. If
you’ve got a problem child, you either cut your
losses, or nurse them through and build them up to what they
can be, which could take years to implement," he said. "But the
main driver is we have a certain amount of capital to allocate
to things and are also happy to bring in partners; aligned
interests is a very important part of that process. That model,
to me, works," he added.
The company’s decision to invest $2.9 billion
in Nyrstar and become its majority owner was something of an
anomaly for Trafigura and followed requests by the
smelter’s creditors, including bondholders and
banks. Trafigura is now working to turn Nyrstar around from
close to bankruptcy after a series of mine acquisitions
starting in 2009.
The Nyrstar move was "opportunistic, defensive, crisis
management," but ultimately Trafigura had a position in the
smelter, which was at risk of going under, Weir noted. "We had
to put a lot of capital into that company and a lot of effort
to right that ship, and it’s still taking place.
What happens in the longer term is yet to be decided, but
that’s no different to any other form of asset we
have over time," he said, adding that Trafigura may look to
bring in partners eventually, provided the framework is
"We’re not trying to rule the world and own or
operate everything. We’re looking where we can add
and create value, and it’s got to be sticking to
core competencies around what we do commercially," Weir
Oil, meanwhile, is a core pillar for the group, accounting
for two-thirds of Trafigura’s revenue in the
six-month period ended March 31, 2020. With daily trade of over
six million barrels of oil and petroleum products, it is, Weir
acknowledged, "a massive business" which he finds fascinating,
and includes a 49.3% stake in oil and petroleum products
distribution company Puma Energy. The group’s
shipping and chartering business, Trafigura Maritime Logistics,
meanwhile services its various commodity trading teams and
A newer area for the company is power and renewables, in
which Trafigura is positioning ahead of an ongoing transition
away from conventional fossil fuels to gas. It includes a power
and renewables trading desk; the launch by investment arm
Galena of a Renewables Fund to be active in solar photovoltaic,
onshore wind, and energy storage; investment in early-stage
disruptive renewable technologies including hydrogen power and
alternative fuels; as well as strategic stakes in the hydrogen
sector. "It’s very early days, but power and
renewables will be a strong third pillar over time –
it’s a five-year vision," Weir said.
Trafigura is not active in agricultural commodities and does
not plan to be. According to Weir, "The products degrade, and
with genetics you see a very different productivity set; you
need a huge amount of infrastructure. Agricultural commodities
have had a tough time, quite frankly."
"Our [product] mix is very decorrelated, a very good mix,
and if I look across our peer group, I like our model very
much. I think it’s the right model for us and,
relatively speaking, asset light, and private, but with
transparency – we’re as transparent as
many PLCs," he added.
Shining a light on Trafigura’s activities is not
something that came naturally, but the traditionally discreet
company has made a conscious effort over the past decade to
boost its transparency. It marks a somewhat unusual move among
its peers, and was, in part, triggered by what Weir described
as a "very difficult period" for the company – the
2006 waste-dumping incident in Ivory Coast.
It began when a contractor working for Trafigura illegally
dumped residual waste from a time-chartered tanker, the Probo
Koala, at a series of landfill sites around the port of
Abidjan, causing residents to complain of flu-like symptoms and
others to allege more harmful effects. Dauphin and two
colleagues arrived in Ivory Coast to help with the
investigation, but were held in prison for five months in a
cell with locks on the inside to protect them from
It took protracted negotiations and a $198 million
settlement payment to secure their release. The resulting
international outcry and legal cases continued for years and
led the company to embark on a period of self-reflection.
While the issues in the Ivory Coast were the catalyst for a
change in culture and a corporate face-lift, Weir said the
increased transparency was also the desire to look to the
future and ensure the company was on the right path. "It was a
very difficult period. It was also an opportunity for a lot of
our competitors to lob 'bombs’ – this is
not a friendly, let’s sit around a table and love
one another, type of industry. It’s pretty
hard-nose," Weir recalled.
"In the process of reflection we looked at where we were and
weren’t prepared, and what we needed to do. We
still had to repair the damage and keep the business moving
forward. But it wasn’t a case of, after the Ivory
Coast we need to change the image. It was more about saying,
what went wrong, how can we address it, and you start a process
and debate things," he said.
"That period is in the past, it’s part of
Trafigura’s history – even with some
positives, because it changed the organization.
We’ve adapted, moved forward and done things
differently. It was part of a turning point," he added.
Trafigura started publishing company results in 2013 and took
the step of producing its first annual sustainability report in
2015. Starting in April 2015, Weir was also the first head of
Trafigura to speak in public.
The global nature of the commodities trading business has
also driven transparency. In November 2014, Trafigura became
the first privately held commodities trading company formally
to declare its support for the Extractive Industries
Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global standard to promote
the open and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral
"When we started to participate in the EITI in 2014, one of
our peers said, 'What are you doing?’ My response
is, the world has changed – and just because
we’re a private company, it doesn’t
mean we have to stay below the radar screen either," Weir said.
"Effectively, we have a role to play in business, in society
and in the industries we’re developing. Ultimately
what we should be doing is having best practices in that."
According to Weir, this extends to staff. "People want to
work for a company that is doing things that are fun, exciting
and pushing the limits but also at the forefront of being a
responsible business. I get a lot of feedback from the banks we
deal with that say we’re leading amongst our peers
in terms of what we do," he said.
"Now, there’s a pride factor in that, but also
at the end of the day, for me, it’s good for
business," Weir added.
The group’s sustainability report is "warts and
all," and the programme has buy-in from partners throughout the
organization, Weir said. "Trafigura will continue on this
programme, we will continue to evolve; we’ll make
mistakes, but we’ll also improve. At the end of
the day, we’ll be a much, much better organization
for it," he added.
Weir – who drives a hybrid vehicle during the year
and a fully-electric Mini Moke Nosmoke on holiday, "an absolute
hoot!" – said the company does not plan to set
unrealistic targets for the future that would be difficult for
next-generation management to achieve, but has and will set
"sensible and achievable targets around the business we run
Around 80% of the company’s carbon footprint is
in marine fuels, and the company is working to significantly
reduce this. "We’re leading certain initiatives
targeting where we want to be. If we can accelerate that,
great, we’ll change our reporting. But
we’ll be clear about what we can and
can’t do and what our objectives are going to be,
because it’s what we should do as an
organization," he said.
The drive to decarbonization and the rise of environmental,
social and governance issues to the top of
consumers’ and investors’ criteria
has led Weir to be bullish on the prospects for metals like
copper, zinc and aluminium, as well as battery raw materials
The company, which set up a low-carbon aluminium trading
desk last year, also recently established a financing platform
of up to $500 million for the metal, designed to enable
Trafigura to access financing at a preferential interest rate
and, in turn, to pay a premium to 'green
Weir also favours power driven by renewables and carbon
pricing, and said that while thermal coal is currently "in the
cross hairs" because of its environmental impact, it still
provides base-load power in certain areas, particularly
"Rather than demonize coal, we have to find a way to say,
'How we can transition out of it without killing certain
economies while at the same time reducing the carbon
footprint?’ This has to be done in a sensible,
logical manner," he said.
While there will be a transition away from oil into other
commodities such as hydrogen, gas and LNG, Weir forecasts that
demand for oil will remain, even if capital to develop new
fields is lacking. "It will require a price to incentivize the
development of oil fields – you can argue the same
with gas and LNG prices. Once we eventually get rid of the
supply overhang, oil prices will start to pick up. But the
availability of capital for certain industries is not
necessarily there," he said.
"Private equity and the debt capital markets have been
severely bruised – to some degree – by what
happened this year. It’s going to take a bit
longer for money and capital to come back into the system, even
with low interest rates," Weir noted. The resultant supply
crunch could push oil prices up into the mid-$60s per barrel
area in a couple of years, he added.
Shaping the future
Weir has worked at Trafigura for almost 20 years, although he
joked that he does not expect to receive a special
commemoration gift in January 2021.
"After a decade with Trafigura, I got a phone call from
Claude and [former management board member] Chris Cox, and they
said, 'Congratulations, you’ve made ten years in
the organization!’" Weir said. "And I said, 'What
do I get for that?’ and they said, 'Penalty, you
get another ten years because you’ve got to pay us
out of our shareholder agreement!’
That’s how partnerships work!" he
Looking at the next ten years for Trafigura, Weir predicted
the way data is viewed will be different, with the result that
the trading function will also change. "What we’re
doing in advanced analytics and artificial intelligence is
changing things, meaning the trader will be different and need
different skills," he said.
Similarly, Trafigura will likely have a reorganized
structure with a different product mix. "I like to think
we’d still have a large number of people working
for us because it should still be a people business and I hope
we’re not sitting behind screens," he said. "We do
have a diversified business model and will continue to
diversify; we know what we want to be in and want to be
specialists in those areas."
Weir, who spends time meeting with graduates to discover what
they think Trafigura ought to be doing, said commodities
trading is a great career.
His advice to young starters in the business? "Be honest, be
true to yourself, and try and travel as much as you can and
experience as much as you can. Don’t overstretch,
utilise the people and resources around you because people are
very forthcoming in this organization," he said. "Unlike me,
speak as many languages as you can, learn cultures and what
people need, because when you can understand people like that
you can often do business more and more."
Weir himself had several mentors, including Dauphin, "a
great mentor and friend and almost like family," he said. He
had other great teachers in different parts of the business, he
noted, helping to guide and explain aspects of the
"My father always said, treat people how you expect to be
treated," he added. His father – now aged 89
– was an identical twin; Weir himself has 27-year-old
boy and girl twins. Neither are in the commodities business
– "No nepotism!" he laughed. Married at 26, thirty
years later the couple also have a 13-year-old daughter.
"It’s a big gap, but when you have twins it takes
a long time to recover!" he said.
Sport features heavily in his spare time. Weir said that
although work can get in the way, he tries to keep as fit as
possible. "My wife is extremely fit, and I try to keep up with
her. We ski, wakesurf and play tennis," he added.
Weir, who now lives in Geneva, Switzerland, brings a love
for BBQs from his native Australia – in all weathers.
"Even in the ski chalet, people often comment that when it was
snowing, they’d see a guy outside cooking a BBQ,"
Weir is, he admitted, a "pretty private" individual on a
personal level. "I like to party, but no one knows about that
because I keep my private life very much out of the limelight
– no Instagram, no Facebook, nothing like that!" he
joked. "Friends and family know the rules of engagement."