Preece says name “in the hat” to lead Gold Fields as firm unveils executive rebuild

Martin Preece, Interim CEO, Gold Fields

GOLD Fields took steps to rebuild its executive team today announcing newly three new appointments, all drawn from within its ranks.

In come Kelly Carter and Benford Mokoatle who will fill executive vice-president roles for legal and compliance, and the South African operations (South Deep) respectively. Francois Swanepoel, chief technical officer, is Gold Fields’s third appointment.

One interesting outcome is that Preece, who previously held the position now occupied by Mokoatle, has no official full-time position. This raises the possibility he is the ‘shoo-in’ for the CEO’s role on a permanent basis.

He said in an interview today he had “put my name into the hat”. Were he not selected for the role he was willing to accept the consequences, he said. Preece is largely credited for the turnaround in the performance of South Deep, Gold Fields’s only South African mine.

The company has not put a formal deadline on appointing a full time CEO following the shock resignation of Chris Griffith in November. Griffith quit after Gold Fields was outbid for control of Yamana Gold, a Canadian firm.

The proposal was unpopular with some shareholders and apparently with staff too. In October, three executive committee members for legal, new business and investor relations said they were leaving the company.

Griffith said at the time the departures had nothing to do with the Yamana bid but they nonetheless left Gold Fields short on skills. Today’s appointments help bridge the skills gap although new business remains unfilled on a permanent basis.

Said Preece in a statement: “All three of these appointments are internal promotions, which reflects positively on our ability to identify and nurture exceptional talents and is testimony to our commitment to development of leaders within Gold Fields”.

Given the difficulty Gold Fields may experience attracting an international executive to Johannesburg, where the company is headquartered, it might make sense for Preece to be ‘the one’ especially given his strong operational background.

In addition, his time in charge of Gold Fields has seen the company achieve a remarkable fight back. Its share price scaled an all-time high – predominantly to do with the gold price – but also on the back of two deals that have unfussy business logic at their centres.

In May, Gold Fields signed an agreement with Toronto-listed Osisko Mining in which the South Africans will pay C$600m (R8.1bn) for a 50% stake in the Windfall project estimated to yield an average 294,000 ounces of gold a year over an initial 10-year life of mine.

Roughly two months earlier it unveiled an in-principle agreement for a joint venture with AngloGold Ashanti in which their Ghana assets would share infrastructure and resources. The joint venture would create “the largest gold mine in Africa”.