A CEO’s Advice to Doing Business – ‘Informal conversations around a barbecue, over a drink or a coffee are important’

We spent 18 years in Southern Africa before we started with Kenmare in January 2015. Coming back to the Northern Hemisphere was a cultural shock.

I was brand new on the block and Kenmare was in the deepest trouble, but it was a pretty steep risk – a good move both professionally and personally.

Growing up in Lincolnshire, I was always an outsider type. I didn’t want to end up in an office, I loved geography and science so I studied applied geology in Leicester.

University was fun and was where I met my wife Joan – now a teacher in Dublin. My team would probably say that I am a hard driver but ‘Work hard, work hard’ has always been my motto.

My degree prepared me to work in mineral exploration, but as my career progressed, I dropped out of geology and stopped specializing in 2004 and began managing teams for mines.

I was reminded this year that I loved the university atmosphere when I did an advanced management program at Harvard. Two months of pure learning, including five weeks of classroom lectures at Harvard with 165 other delegates. It was a wonderful experience and fortunate to have taken that time off to include my colleagues. I took an incredible amount of what I used to Kenmare, and that’s what I learned about myself.

I was supposed to do it in 2019, but we were in the middle of our turnaround growth strategy and it was better to wait until the end.

out of Africa

I worked for two years as a junior geologist for a company running drill rigs in the UK and then did my Masters at the Camborne School of Mines, which led me to South Africa to work in the mineral sands industry with Rio Tinto .

I went for three months for my thesis and worked for 18 years from superintendent of mineral separation plant in Richards Bay to assistant geologist.

When I went to a sister mine in Madagascar in 2009 as general manager for three years, it was the first place I could say I had a patch, I had full accountability.

Looking back, it was quite an adventure – our son went to French school there and my daughter was born while we lived in Madagascar. It was really very basic but it was fantastic.

In 2013, I was sent back to Richards Bay for a bigger job looking after five mines, but going back to my old company was not what I wanted to do.

Titanium

I wasn’t actively looking but I was ready for change when a headhunter on tour looking for a Kenmare role called. I met him in Durban, and then met Michael (Carville), Kenmare MD, on his way to his MoMA mine in Mozambique. He had a vision that I found compelling.

I knew we had a lot to do because Kenmare was not in a good place, markets were low, we would have to work hard to survive.

When I started, management had a recovery plan. At that time I was less into strategy and more into delivery and survival mode.

We recapitalized in 2016 and progressed through a plan of reform that came through the end of 2020. Last year was a record year. We improved our capacity and this week MoMA worked 10 million hours without any injuries. It’s very gratifying when we can improve efficiently and safely.

biking to work

In Dublin I wake up at 6.15am, routinely check production numbers on my phone, shower and then it’s my job to bring everyone down and have breakfast – kids would rather watch TikTok than eat breakfast, So I chase them down and then Joan gets up, I eat some toast or cereal and leave the house.

I cycle to work, 12 km each way. Life is busy and cycling is my main exercise. I find it comfortable and enjoy it, although I have had a few accidents. I keep a bike at my mine guesthouse in Mozambique so I do my workouts while I’m working there.

My goal is to leave the office around six, stay home for seven and I try not to work until later. I want to recharge my battery. I prefer to work a few hours on Saturday mornings than work evenings, although I often continue to work weekends when traveling.

a deep seam mining

When I am at the mine I am busy looking at mining plants, future mining areas and drill rigs. Employees take great pride in showing this to showcase their hard work.

I like to be there and don’t find it lonely, I am an open person and treat people well. It is very important to build relationships with some employees flying for eight weeks to work in the mine.

We have created a culture where people work together and get along. Informal chats over a drink or coffee are important in the evening, around a barbecue.

Before covid I used to go to my mine in Mozambique about six or eight times a year, but we’ve learned that we can do a lot on Zoom, so I’ll go a little less now, but still every couple of months because it’s a There is a moving mine, things are always changing and I need to stay on the ground.

Kenmare has always had a strong ESG focus, another reason I wanted to work there. They look after and collect rent from local communities and we are fortunate in our mine development that 90 pc of our electricity is zero carbon. For the rest we have undertaken a project to ensure uninterrupted clean electricity from the grid during the summer months, when storms affect the supply so we do not need to use diesel generators.

long term future

I have my footing in two camps, one in Mozambique and one in my corporate role where I liaise with investors, work on corporate reporting, and interact with marketing and sales. Board meetings are held every month and I am Khan’s representative at the meetings.

About 70 pc of mine time is spent focusing on mine.

My day is divided into short term where I am looking at goals and liaising with the site team, looking at problems and solutions.

Then there is the strategic process. Mining is a dwindling industry, you have to build new assets and move them when you’re running out of ore.

We’re back in the office three or four days a week now and I like to go in. It’s far more productive not to make an appointment for a quick conversation. I like to meet my colleagues in person.

best of both worlds

We were happy with our children being educated in South Africa but we both wanted to be with our elderly parents in the UK and now we get to see them more.

Children integrate easily into their schools and most of my life outside work is spent taking them to their hockey, Gaelic football and hurling.

We fought with the Irish. Joan needs to learn it to get a permanent teaching role and my son misses out and – having learned Zulu, Afrikaans and French – he is managing but never a linguist when it comes to Irish Will happen.

Life in Ireland is good for us; We miss South Africa but we kept our holiday home in Hermanus and it was lovely to go to Easter for the first time in two and a half years.