A World Cup of mining executives

[miningmx.com] — HAVING attended, in freezing conditions, the poor showing of South Africa’s national soccer (football) team at the Fifa World Cup recently, I set to wondering what team I would compose were it to consist of mining executives.

The first rule is that the executives have to be South African. Though Cynthia Carroll would make for a tireless midfielder, she doesn’t qualify.

The second rule is that they’d have to been in action (as mining executives) whilst I was a mining reporter. That means any South African qualifies if they held CEO positions from 1996 to the current day.

The third and most important rule is that the reader has to make the same imaginative leap as the writer by thinking in terms of leadership qualities rather than any athletic prowess as the key criteria of selection.

And one final rule. The selection is entirely subjective, personal, horribly self-indulgent, and not intended to injure. In discussing the idea with colleagues it was abundantly clear that it was possible to shape any number of teams. South African mining is blessed with a myriad of leaders.

The goalkeeper position is easy: Sipho Nkosi, CEO of Exxaro.

You’re typically looking for “a safe pair of hands’, strong decision-making abilities, and the type of mental constitution that knows, but isn’t unravelled by the possibility that a single mistake can be critical. Nkosi to me seems unshakeably calm about his executive responsibilities.

I was torn. Chris Thompson, former Gold Fields CEO, would also take up this position, but in the end, Thompson warms the bench.

I needed “towers in defence’, or “giants in the air’. These are the centrebacks, the stalwarts of any team.

For this, I’ve got David Brown, Impala Platinum CEO and Ferdi Dippenaar. Full backs are no-nonsense in personality, and absolute. Brown and Dippenaar it is.

Flanking these bastions of granite determination are the “wing-backs’.

In the old days, these positions were the more static left and right back. Today, they need something of the fleet-of-foot combined with a certain tackling, snapping at the heels ferocity.

The shoo-in at right back is Stuart Murray, CEO of Aquarius Platinum. He’s not always pretty, but tenacious. In my mind’s eye, he’s careering down the wing like a dynamo. His counterpart on the left is Paul Miller, MD of Keaton Energy.

Opportunism, maverick, enterpreneurial endeavour.. They’ve got it in spades.

Midfield is the engine room. Courage, no small degree of skill, strategy, and vision are the key elements. They link defence with attack. They are the beating heart. It’s no coincidence that three of my midfielders all hail from the Billiton stable. You need a kind of like-thinking solidarity so let’s start with the centre half, “the guvn’r’ as the position is often labelled.

Brian Gilbertson: poise, unshakeable confidence, and vision. He sits at the top of the diamond, the most attacking position in the midfield formation. He’s also captain. His counterpart at the bottom of the diamond is Mick Davis, CEO of Xstrata.

Though a holding role, it’s Davis you want as the team floods forward in counter attack, bringing the ball rapidly out of defence. He’s reserved, but possesses a sharpness of purpose that’s terrifying to behold as opponents back-pedal. And as Big Mick advances, back peddling is advisable.

The lightning puck at Davis’s shoulder is the archetypal “ball player’. With an ability to thread a pass through the eye of a needle, this is the playmaker role par excellence. So who in the world of mining has a lightning turn of speed (of thought), low centre of gravity (quick mover) and the vision of Socrates (the Greek philosopher not the Brazilian player of the Eighties)?

Marius Kloppers, of course!

You don’t get to be BHP Billiton CEO by being a water-carrier (as Eric Cantona once, unkindly said of French team mate, Didier Deschamp).

Finally, for midfield, I’m looking for an urbane worldliness or wry experience. You want someone who can read the game in all its political complexity. Work out who’s tiring among the opposition; an ability to detect weakness. Look no further folks than Niall Carroll of Royal Bafokeng Holdings.

Understated, a figure of poise, and a wizard of positioning. Carroll is so clearly “in the game’ without ever conspicuously appearing so. Impeccable judgement is always needed.

Which leaves the strikers, the sharp end of the wedge.

Qualities required are an eye for goals, an unkillable appetite for success, and of course, killer instinct.

After considerable deliberation, two mining executives stand out above the rest: Mark Bristow and Ivan Glasenberg, head of Randgold Resources and Glencore respectively.

You don’t want to be let down at the crucial moment, even with a potentially impossible half chance. They turn scraps of chances into victory, and a hunger for winning that confounds sense.

Qualities required are an eye for goals, an unkillable appetite for success, and of course, killer instinct

As in the world of mining, soccer thrives of winning margins and both Bristow and Glasenberg know what a margin is, and consistently achieve it.

That leaves me to conclude with the all important coaching position and who I’d stick on the bench.

At first, Derek Keys was my coach. But I never really knew him (although his strategy of unbundling Gencor eventually became Gilbertson’s to conclude). So I’ve opted for Con Fauconnier, formerly of Exxaro Resources, ably assisted by Andre Wilkens, CEO of African Rainbow Minerals.

Bernard Swanepoel sits on the bench as a fantastic replacement in the attacking department, or when I want to throw “three up top’ in pursuit of an all important equaliser, or winner. Peter Flack and Mark Cutifani are midfield replacements.

All organisations need an owner. Who else but Patrice Motsepe. He might even know a thing or two about soccer.