Nico Muller
Rainmakers & Potstirrers

Nico Muller

CEO: Impala Platinum

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‘We have made no secret that battery metals are something of interest to us’

NICO Muller last year won the slugfest against Northam Platinum to take over Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat), but it’s starting to look like a Pyrrhic victory. While the fundamental long-term reasons for the acquisition are sound – RBPlat will greatly extend the economic life of Implats’s key Rustenburg operations – in the short term it is going to cost Implats. That’s because of the investment that needs to be made into RBPlat which has turned loss-making at a time when the platinum group metals (PGM) market has turned sharply down.

Operational performances at RBPlat suffered badly over the past year, which is understandable, and the workforce is unhappy judging by December’s sit-in strike, and a stayaway in January. Muller spelt out the short-term priorities at RBPlat as “optimise costs, improve metallurgical performance, complete the Styldrift ramp-up and plan, and implement the medium- and longer-term initiatives to realise the synergies provided by the acquisition”. As the Aussies put it, Muller now has to do “the hard yards”. (Northam – ironically – seems to have come out of this better overall.) These corporate manoeuvres were put into bitter, tragic context in November when 13 miners lost their lives and 73 were injured following an accident at the firm’s Rustenburg 11 Shaft.

The accident is a blow to morale as well as production while an independent team runs the forensics over its cause. Longer term, it will be interesting how Muller progresses Implats’s longer-term strategy. He has spoken previously of diversifying the company into battery minerals, a strategy that may get an extra push if the PGM markets show signs of permanent structural change amid the adoption of electric vehicles.


Muller is a mining engineer who first came to prominence during his three-year tenure at Gold Fields’ dysfunctional South Deep mine which he restored to profitability on his watch. He left South Deep to become CEO at Implats and, after his departure, South Deep promptly plunged back into the red being saved subsequently mainly by the sustained rise in the gold price. There were plenty of naysayers who doubted he would make the grade at Implats, but Muller has cracked it on all fronts including international acquisitions and – now – a bitter takeover battle.

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