What now for AngloGold, a company with the rug pulled from under its feet?

The beautifully appointed Turbine Hall, Johannesburg, in which AngloGold HQ is found.

THE resignation of Kelvin Dushnisky, CEO of AngloGold Ashanti until September, is a surprise by any measure.

For an executive to quit after only two years, and then provide the market with a month’s notice is unusual, especially as his time in charge has been largely successful. Dushnisky will provide assistance to AngloGold from his Toronto base until February, according to the company’s announcement yesterday.

The announcement was short on detail. There was some corporate rhubarb about mutual appreciation, but no reason was given for Dushnisky’s resignation, or why his appointment ended up being so brief. Until it says something, the chatter will continue.

Looking for clues, I came upon an article in Miningmx in June last year in which Dushnisky said: “I initially had some sleepless nights about what I had bought into”. Perhaps he was always ambivalent on AngloGold, but then again …

Who wouldn’t ask such a question, especially coming off 16 years at Barrick Gold, Dushnisky’s previous employer? Johannesburg can be a tough place to live. The news is often negative and the social charge is angry or guilty, and violent.

Unlike his predecessors Mark Cutifani and Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan (Venkat), Dushnisky didn’t bring his family who remained in North America. So when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the ease with which visits home could be managed made whatever personal workaround he had abruptly unworkable.

In any event, Dushnisky repatriated himself once the South African government implemented its hard lockdown response to Covid-19 in March. Sitting at home, far from AngloGold’s headquarters, he might well have had pause for thought during lockdown (again, who hasn’t?). So whilst it’s tempting to think there might be a can of worms behind his sudden resignation, the reality is more likely to be that an ordinary decision was taken in extraordinary times.

He might have thought to himself: I’m 58, rich, and have no especial national commitment. And anyway, I’m leaving on a high: AngloGold’s share price is surging and a few of the firm’s strategic goals have been ticked, including the sale of the South African assets (always the plan). Dushnisky also very successfully carried on Venkat’s work of recommissioning Obuasi, the Ghana mine AngloGold completely re-engineered.

So that’s that.

Yet it leaves AngloGold in a curious kind of place. First, there’s the oddness of Covid-19 which has raised existential questions for everyone ranging from workplace happiness to whether society will ever be the same. Then there’s the fact that the company is rooted in South Africa but has no assets here. If ever there’s a what-now moment, this must be it. It begs the question as to who is most suitable to take AngloGold from here.

CFO Christine Ramon will be interim CEO from September. She or another candidate will need to quickly unify the company – skills of a type Venkat has in abundance.

Having left Vedanta suddenly earlier this year, Venkat is in need of a new challenge … but is it AngloGold? As romantic and convenient as a return might be, it’s never quite the same, going back. But then the board may have a different view on the matter.

Chris Griffith is free, the former CEO of Anglo American Platinum. But does moving from one the biggest games in town (Amplats was recently toppled as the largest PGM producer by Sibanye-Stillwater) to AngloGold constitute a good switch for Griffith? He has led a canny career.

Deshnee Naidoo, CEO of Vedanta Zinc is also free, but the timing doesn’t seem immediately right for Richard Duffy, a former CFO of AngloGold, who is occupied with Petra Diamonds, a company facing serious existential questions of its own.

For Ramon, this is a good time to prove her stripes. There’s no reason AngloGold can’t make major headway on net debt and provide ample investor returns provided the gold price keeps its head up and Ramon can keep the gold mines operating through Covid-19.

The listing of AngloGold in London or elsewhere might, though, need to wait until there’s a full-time leader. If an offshore listing happens, it will be a good opportunity for AngloGold to state its ‘name and intention’. That will require a vision; right now, though, the company could be forgiven for feeling like the rug’s been pulled from under its feet.