NICO Muller has one of the most closely monitored tasks in the platinum industry: essentially ensuring the survival of Impala Platinum (Implats). While he is considered technically strong after decades in the industry, the key – one feels – will be the judgement calls. This he’ll have to manage without Brenda Berlin, his former CFO, who quit the company for the (slightly more) sedate world of coal. And, crikey, some decisions are tough. So far, about 2,500 jobs are at risk at the Rustenburg mines. No final decision has been made which seems wise, in our opinion. Better to ease into the restructure, especially as labour and community relations are brittle. But what’s particularly interesting about Muller’s plans is that it’s a repositioning rather than just a slash-and-burn approach to unprofitable ounces. Sure, the old mines are in harvest mode, to be mined for profit, but he’s also bought a stake in the undeveloped Waterberg tenement, owned by Platinum Group Metals. A secondary issue, but one which talks to future operational flexibility – much as the Waterberg acquisition does – is coming to grips with the maelstrom that is Zimbabwe’s political environment. The departure of Robert Mugabe and his replacement by Emmerson Mnangagwa as Zimbabwean president – and the apparently friendlier, savvier approach to business – should count in Implats’ favour. But you can never really be sure, can you?
LIFE OF NICO
A Pretoria University graduate with a BSc in mining engineering, Nicolaas Muller has worked for De Beers and Avgold. He joined Royal Bafokeng Platinum as COO in 2009. After a brief spell with Gold Fields, managing the restructure of South Deep, Muller was unveiled as Implats CEO and assumed the role in April 2017. Whether this was a leap from the frying pan to the fire, only time will tell.
- Web Address: www.implats.co.za