Anglo adieu to Johannesburg’s Main Street helps leave “difficult legacies” behind

Anglo American Main Street offices, Johannesburg

SO Anglo is bidding adieu to its Main Street offices in central Johannesburg for a more ‘burby’ vibe among the jacarandas and street cafes of Rosebank, a mere eight kilometres away from its current location, but somehow much, much further in feel.

Having already moved De Beers out of its hallowed Charterhouse Street offices in London in 2016, after a century of occupation, it seems inevitable the Johannesburg chapter would follow.

The matter of the Joburg move was first raised in 2016 after a jobs – then put at 66,000 – were shed (not necessarily lost) from the group following heavy restructuring Mark Cutifani, Anglo CEO, began shortly after his appointment in 2013.

Following that restructuring walking through 44 Main Street left one with the distinct impression of a hotel rather than corporate headquarters with its deep carpet weft still intact and those individually appointed offices: to each a door that could hermetically seal its occupant.

“It’s time to modernise and time to set our offices up very differently to the way we’ve done them in the past,” said Cutifani in an interview in June. “The old Main Street offices weren’t really conducive to a different way of operating: open plan,” he said.

There were other issues as well. Security was one; another was legacy of the type that has seen statues removed by government and civilian will. “The way I see it: people think about Africa and its history and its colonial past and they think about some of the old edifices to the past,” said Cutifani.

It’s an interesting observation because in other responses, Cutifani has raised doubts about the ‘Anglo reputation’ or starched formality, describing it once as “a myth” mostly perpetrated by former Anglo staffers.

“How we work and how we operate is going to be very different,” said Cutifani. “Some of the old stuff has fantastic legacies, but there are also some difficult legacies. So it’s time to move into this century and be something different.”

One important rider to all of this is that Anglo plans to repurpose the buildings. One of the properties opposite 44 Main is now a community school and there are discussions underway with government has to other uses to which the buildings can be put.

“We’re not walking away; we want to be part of the definition of the future,” said Cutifani. “That’s why we’ve gone to the government, the local communities saying: how can we repurpose this? It’s not a matter of us wanting to make a quid out of this.”

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