CEO: De Beers Group
‘Throughout my career I have been passionate about bringing enduring economic, social and environmental value to host countries and communities’
FOR a company where you had to be an Anglo or De Beers ‘lifer’ to have a chance of making it – it also really helped if your name was Oppenheimer - De Beers has certainly been ringing the changes in recent years. It continues to do so with the appointment of CEO Al Cook. His background is in oil (BP) and mining exploration (Equinor). Cook takes over from Bruce Cleaver, who in turn replaced Philippe Mellier. Mellier was the first outsider to run De Beers, having cut his teeth in the sales department of various vehicle manufacturers. A former car salesman running De Beers? Shock, horror!
Anglo CEO Duncan Wanblad described Cook’s appointment in classic corporate speak, commenting: “I believe Al’s multidisciplinary strategic skillset and strong personal conviction and values are ideally suited to the nature of De Beers.” Score one for Anglo’s PR team but a closer look at Cook’s background reveals one area where he could play a huge role in a critical area of De Beers’ future operations: he’s a geologist and De Beers’ greatest challenge right now is to find a major, world-class diamond deposit that will underpin its dominant position in the diamond industry for the next 30 to 40 years.
There has not been a major diamond discovery since the early 1980s, when the Venetia mine in South Africa was found and several new mines were opened up in Canada. The Canadian mines are now winding down. The most prospective region for finding a blockbuster diamond mine is Angola and De Beers moved back in there last year to restart prospecting operations it shut in 2012. Geological insight and support from the CEO can only help the new exploration thrust and Cook could also be instrumental in getting controlling shareholder Anglo American to allocate more funds to the exploration budget.
LIFE OF AL
Cook holds an MA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and has also completed the international executive programme at INSEAD in France. He is a fellow of the Geological Society of London as well as a fellow of the Energy Institute. He spent 20 years with BP running operations in countries like Russia, Vietnam, the US, the UK and Azerbaijan before moving up the management ranks to become chief of staff to the CEO of BP. He then spent nearly seven years with Equinor, becoming executive vice-president for international exploration and production.