‘If you have not delivered and you receive remuneration like this, then you should be embarrassed - but to be honest, the Sibanye team has shot the lights out’
NEAL Froneman became the ‘R300 million man’ in 2022 after making that much, mostly in shares, for a year’s work. Unions seethed but Froneman defended the payout, pointing out that his salary was less than a tenth of the amount, with the remainder a cost to shareholders, not the company. And he has certainly delivered for shareholders in the decade since Sibanye-Stillwater launched its journey as a Gold Fields spin off.
Last year, Froneman stared down the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) over the course of a three-month strike in the gold sector. Sibanye-Stillwater then sealed a five-year wage agreement at its South African platinum group metals (PGM) operations without a tool being downed. A master of the art of the deal, Froneman - a hunter of both game and bargains - was more circumspect in 2022 in the face of high valuations. Still, Sibanye-Stillwater maintained its diversification drive in the green metals space.
In November, its board approved the €588m development of the Keliber lithium deposit in Finland. Keliber will be the first fully integrated lithium hydroxide producer supplying the European market, where regulations are set to begin phasing out the internal combustion engine - though globally Froneman has cautioned that this may not happen at a Formula 1 pace. Of more urgency is breathing fresh life into the company’s gold division. Sibanye-Stillwater’s gold assets are maturing, as evidenced by a decision to restructure the Beatrix and Kloof mines with the potential loss of up to 1,959 jobs.
Froneman didn’t think 2022 was the time for gold M&A but the division’s future may become a more seriously asked question in 2023. There are questions, too, about the performance of Sibanye-Stillwater’s US mine, Stillwater, where a production of 700,000 PGM oz is now only expected in 2027 following its repositioning.
LIFE OF NEAL
Froneman’s career has spanned almost four decades in the mining industry, with the last decade the most eventful. Since Sibanye-Stillwater (initially Sibanye Gold) began life as a Gold Fields spin-off focused on deep-level, conventional South African gold assets, Froneman’s deal-making has transformed the group into a major platinum producer, with green metals now added to the portfolio. Neal still finds time for his side passions, which include long-range target shooting, music, and tinkering with the engines of cars to make them go faster. Known for his blunt manner, Froneman is a straight shooter whose words hit their target.