Ultra marathon runner reflects on adventures and time at Keystone Trust

April 11, 2024

Supermarket worker, chemist delivery cyclist, department store salesperson, neighbourhood lawn mower, and paper boy: as a Timaru teenager, Dale Henderson did it all.

“The award transformed my inner confidence. I did not have any strong self-belief in my capabilities.  The award made me think: ‘wow, if they are backing me, maybe I am ok’.”

Little did he know what those schoolboy skills would eventually lead to. “Life has got a way of shaping things for you,” says Dale today. He is speaking from his Perth, Western Australia, workplace where he holds the role of Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Pilbara Minerals. One of the leading Australian Stock Exchange growth companies, Pilbara is a multi-billion-dollar player in the lithium industry.

What took him there? Keystone – then the Graeme Bringans Property Education Trust – certainly played a part. Dale’s parents had separated and both were on a low income. Dale knew he would have to self-fund his pursuit of tertiary studies – a task that seemed daunting and scary at the time, he says. “To me, going to university was a must to create a positive future for myself.” He remembers thinking his chances of getting an award were improbable – but he submitted an application nonetheless. Then came word of his acceptance. “The award transformed my inner confidence. I did not have any strong self-belief in my capabilities.  The award made me think: ‘wow, if they are backing me, maybe I am ok’.”

He enrolled at the University of Canterbury to study civil engineering. “My university journey was a fantastic experience.  It was gruelling in the sense of volumes of work and intensity.  However, looking back, it was fantastic grounding that equipped me with the tools for thinking and solving problems.”

Shortly after graduating with First Class Honours, Dale’s overseas expeditions began. First there was a job as a fly-in, fly-out engineer at an iron ore mining site in Western Australia. Next came a posting to Oman in the Middle East, where he secured what was meant to be a brief role within the oil and gas industry. The job turned into a post of several years and entailed several career steps while working for this major US operator.

By now it was time to start travelling, says Dale. The former Timaru Boys’ High School prefect, house captain, sportsman, musician, and top scholar decided to embrace the outdoors in the fullest sense. A Duke of Edinburgh bronze, silver and gold awardee, he went climbing in the Himalayas and backpacking with friends through South America and Europe, before returning to Western Australia and taking up leadership positions in mine operations and project development. He has been with Pilbara since 2017, starting out as Chief Operations Officer and being appointed to CEO and MD in 2022.

Dale didn’t originally have ambitions to get the top job, but a conversation with his wife,  Galabinga – who also works in the mining and metals industry – set him on that path. They were sitting at the kitchen table one day and she suggested he think about setting his sights on that goal. It is Galabinga he thus credits for his subsequent posting.

A financial publication describes Dale as ‘notoriously calm and considered’ in that role. Dale sees it otherwise. “It’s been more of a case of keeping the head down and delivering on the task at hand,” he says.

This is somebody who sees challenges and pressures in life as “fantastic”. The bigger the challenge, the better he says. Consider his decision to run a marathon. He’d never done one – but rather than start with the conventional 42-kilometre distance, he started with a 100-kilometre Mongolian ultra marathon. He’s done a few since, including the Rotorua ultra marathon. (And he’s climbed Aoraki Mt Cook too.)

The industry that he’s now so deeply involved with is one that is changing the world. (The lithium-ion battery is a key enabler for renewables – be it Electric Vehicle or mass-energy storage.)

It is, Dale says, incredibly exciting to be leading a major lithium company and contributing to the shape of this fast paced growth industry that is changing the world.

He looks back to Timaru and remembers where it all began. “When I reflect on the scholarship and the role of the Trust, it has had an enormously positive impact on my life.  I am incredibly grateful to the Trust and those connected to it.”

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