Murray Houston

Murray Houston

Glencore Coal

Glencore Coal has been through a torrid time with its biggest local customer, Eskom. But all seems to be forgiven and the Swiss group is now assisting the power utility with its coal procurement troubles where it can. Murray, who became Glencore Coal CEO in 2017, was COO, with Clinton Ephron as CEO, when they were faced with a series of extortionate demands from Eskom, including a R2.1bn penalty for unacceptable coal quality from Optimum Colliery. This forced Glencore to put Optimum into business rescue – all part of a plot, it subsequently emerged, to hand the potentially lucrative export mine to the Gupta family, the financial sponsor to former South African president, Jacob Zuma. Under Eskom’s previous management, some of the utility’s biggest coal suppliers, such as Glencore, were given the cold shoulder. Eskom is now faced with a shortfall of coal because the small black-controlled suppliers it favoured were unable to provide enough, even though some were surreptitiously buying it from larger suppliers, adding a margin and selling it to Eskom. New Eskom management realises it needs to secure coal on long-term contracts from the biggest, cheapest producers. Murray describes the relationship with Eskom as “very good”, but it remains to be seen if this will translate into, or presage fresh investment. Houston’s boss, Ivan Glasenberg, CEO of Glencore, is bullish on coal and sees management of political risk as part of the job, but whether that’s enough to risk capital in the topsy-turvey South African environment is an imponderable at present.

“The paralysis we experienced (with Eskom) for quite a significant period is gone.”

LIFE OF MURRAY

He was educated at Michaelhouse, and obtained a BCom from the University of Cape Town and a CA by working for one of the top accounting firms, the old Coopers & Lybrand. He joined Xstrata in 2002 as a marketing executive and was chief operating officer of its coal division when it was absorbed into Glencore.