CEOs say goodbye to jet lag, hello to home comforts as meeting apps replace travel circuit

Even before COVID-19, Resolute Mining CEO, John Welborn, had had a taste of running his company from home; actually, his bed.

“I broke my neck skiing a couple of years ago and as a result I’d had to stay put for the first time in ten years.

“Sometimes, though, you need to learn the same lesson a couple of times”, he said of recognising again that concerns his management effectiveness might be limited has, in fact, proved groundless. Welborn, as with many executives, think there are benefits to not travelling as much.

Some organisations are more resilient than given credit for. “I have an exceptional team, so I’ve actually been actually able to use this period to allow them to step up and deal with the crisis,” said Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater, a gold and platinum producer.

Froneman was in the US following a re-listing of the company on the New York Stock Exchange when commercial international travel was banned. He decamped to Florida, where he has a house. From there, he’s overseen the induction of a new non-executive director, even providing the incumbent with a virtual mine tour.

Sibanye-Stillwater has also decided to put an office expansion on hold in favour of what it has dubbed SOHO (‘small office, home office’). “If you’re focused on outputs, and not worried about what people are doing, but measuring their outputs, then working from home – especially when you’ve got a good organisational culture – is the way to go,” said Froneman.

This article was first published in the Mining Yearbook 2020 which is available here: https://www.miningmx.com/the-mining-yearbook-2020/.

It’s also provided a break from some gruelling travel. “I’ve been trying to travel less for many years.

“It was what I was working towards, travelling less, and spending more time in one place because it’s the cost of travel; it’s getting over the jet lag and so on. That really takes days and days.”

The home office for Eira Thomas, CEO of Lucara Diamonds, is Vancouver – possibly the ultimate in remote relative to the world’s mining capitals, even Toronto. So, travel is pretty much in the firm’s DNA, especially considering the firm’s diamond mine, and its only asset, is in Botswana.

“I still think that face-time is really critical,” said Thomas. “But I also think that what this has taught us is that we actually can be very functional using Teams Meetings.”

Being in Vancouver may mean having to start the day somewhat early in order to accommodate management in different time zones, but then that also means an afternoon of uninterrupted work. “That can’t be too bad.”

Anglo American CEO, Mark Cutifani, reckons Teams Meetings may end up creating more accountability, owing to the way the UK-group works.

As far as diversified mining companies go, it has a relatively small asset base, but geographically, it’s sprawling. Normally, it runs hook-ups with management from its UK headquarters to which the ‘regions’ participate by video conference. In lockdown, however, the drawbacks of this have been revealed.

Said Cutifani: “It ends up being that the people who aren’t in the room end up being spectators. Whereas if everybody is on Teams, they’re all part of it and participating quite differently.

“So, we’ll probably restructure some of the corporate global pick-ups that we do and instead of trying to do it from one centre and then have people on video, we may have everybody on laptops as part of Teams. Then they’re all part of a rogues gallery.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Pretty sure Donald Trump’s response to this would be “Sounds good. Doesn’t work?”

    A lot of us (especially the millenials) do get the attraction of “playstation mining”, but like Warren Buffett answered when asked if he would invest in TESLA, his answer was short and sweet,”no”.

    Let’s see if this trendy conversation holds up post US elections in November. Or better still, after that vaccine comes onto the scene😇

    • I know some who like the private time in biz or first class to think about issues, or read, or just relax.
      So the heavy travel schedule isn’t onerous, for them.

      For others, though, sitting around in airport terminals or in pressurised aluminium tubes for hours on end – absolute hell.

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