As a toddler rising up in Klerksdorp, South Africa, Natascha Viljoen had her first publicity to mining, accompanying her father to his job as a hoist driver. Years later, after finding out extractive metallurgy at South Africa’s North-West College, she entered the business as a metallurgical engineer. This was practically three a long time in the past, when there have been so few ladies within the discipline that she was assigned a chaperone when she was engaged on web site. Viljoen held a wide range of engineering, sustainability, and management roles at a number of South African mines earlier than becoming a member of Anglo American Group in 2014, as the corporate’s international head of processing. At present she is CEO of Johannesburg-based Anglo American Platinum Ltd.—a gaggle member firm of Anglo American PLC group and the world’s largest refiner of platinum group metals (PGMs), with operations in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
When Viljoen took the helm in April 2020, it was the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic; she confronted tough selections about learn how to function below unprecedented restrictions and learn how to present assist to workers and surrounding communities. The corporate additionally needed to declare drive majeure on deliveries to prospects following the non permanent shutdown of a key processing plant. One yr later, Anglo American Platinum introduced annual outcomes that included a 39% enhance in earnings to R41.6 billion (US$3 billion)—a file, regardless of a 14% decline in manufacturing. The rationale: sturdy worldwide demand for the corporate’s treasured metals pushed by the rising crucial to develop clear applied sciences. PGMs are used to decrease emissions from inside combustion engines and within the manufacturing of hydrogen and in gasoline cells for electrical automobiles, and are being studied as a means to enhance the efficiency of lithium batteries.
Below Viljoen’s management, the corporate has set a course for modernization and expertise funding that may automate processes, enhance security, and additional its sustainability objectives. As Viljoen just lately defined in a video interview with technique+enterprise, she credit the corporate’s human-centered objective with serving to her via these tough early days, and in serving to to plan for Anglo American Platinum’s future.
S+B: How do you outline Anglo American Platinum’s objective?
VILJOEN: Our objective as a corporation is “reimagining mining to enhance folks’s lives.” Within the final yr, we’ve requested ourselves, “How will we construct a tradition and set up methods of working inside the framework of that objective and the values we selected?”
For instance, in a time of giant uncertainty, just like the pandemic, we needed to resolve learn how to reply. We needed to ask, “Do we have now the monetary means to take care of our folks and our communities?” Our objective and our values helped us to make these selections. Throughout most of final yr, 1,500 of our workers [out of 23,000] weren’t at work, however we continued to pay them. We nonetheless have greater than 200 workers not but again to work who we proceed to pay.
In hindsight, this could have been a straightforward choice to make as a result of commodity costs are very favorable for us. However we didn’t know that once we made the choice to maintain paying our folks. As a substitute, it was guided by our objective. I believe the truth that we lived our values through the pandemic will stand us in good stead in the long run. We see that appreciation in our communities, and in our folks.
S+B: You’ve now been at Anglo American for seven years, serving as CEO of Anglo American Platinum for the final yr. How have you ever been in a position to affect the group’s tradition?
VILJOEN: After I got here into the function of CEO, I needed to get to know the enterprise inside out. I’ve executed interviews with greater than 160 members of my senior workforce. We’ve additionally performed surveys over a interval of 4 years throughout the enterprise, proper all the way down to the frontline stage. These interviews and surveys recognized a few key areas on which we wanted to focus. One, particularly, was round tradition.
There was a tradition of not eager to share data when issues go flawed. And in a enterprise our dimension, with simply over 30,000 folks, together with contractors, if we don’t have a tradition of coping with challenges, I believe that’s a really harmful world for us to stay in. I’m not going to say that we mounted it, as a result of we’re removed from that, however I definitely see way more of an openness to interact.
For instance, deep-level underground mining is a tricky atmosphere to work in. I imagine that you need to get ft on the bottom to essentially perceive the group. Lately, I went underground with a workforce to interact with colleagues working there. It was my fourth time doing this. The earlier thrice, colleagues have been very reluctant to speak to me. After they did, they spoke solely in Fanakalo, which is a language nonetheless used unofficially underground. It dates again to the late 1800s, and may be very a lot related to migrant agricultural and mining labor when Southern Africa was colonized, and extra just lately through the Apartheid period.
This time round, they have been open to having a dialog in English, which is, I believe, a cultural breakthrough. We spoke concerning the good, the unhealthy, and the ugly. My colleagues have been open about their views on what’s working and what’s not working, and the way we will enhance, in a really constructive means. That’s a really small win, however one which I’ve celebrated, as a result of that, in my thoughts, is the place you begin to see cultural transformation occur. We are able to discuss it within the workplace till the cows come house, however till we attain the frontline employee, we have now not but executed our work.
S+B: What are a few of the different modifications occurring, each at your organization and inside your business?
VILJOEN: After I began as a younger metallurgist, I used to be the one feminine within the office. That has modified fairly considerably. I went underground early in my profession with particular permission and was accompanied by a chaperone. Ladies weren’t allowed to work shifts, however as a part of my coaching as an engineer, we needed to have shift cycles. And once more, I used to be appointed a chaperone to do this.
It’s nonetheless a difficult atmosphere. It’s a office designed by males for males. We’re working to guarantee that our insurance policies and processes promote equality. We’re additionally engaged on enhancing our amenities, like change homes and bathroom amenities, in addition to serious about issues like work apparel. As a substitute of simply having one-piece overalls, we now have two-piece overalls for ladies working underground so it’s simpler for them to make use of the rest room. These examples are fairly primary, however we’re transferring on fairly shortly from these.
For the advantage of all workers, we’re making an attempt to modernize our workplaces. One of many issues we’re doing is transferring from pneumatic drills to electrical drills, that are a lot safer. Actually, we’re within the technique of automating all our drills. Now we have a workforce working these new drills remotely from a management room, a lot of whom are younger ladies who’ve grown up utilizing expertise.
S+B: On the opposite facet of the coin, if you automate and also you digitize, you want fewer folks. As a significant job supplier in your area, how are you serious about this concern?
VILJOEN: For fairly a while, I believed that simply because we may automate sure processes, it didn’t imply we should always—as a result of it may cut back job alternatives. However now we’re embracing the idea of automation whereas additionally supporting communities by creating respectable jobs. We all know we have to automate to make our workplaces secure and to stay aggressive. The largest contribution we will make to society is to maintain operating our enterprise profitably and sustainably. A worthwhile, sustainable enterprise permits us to maintain paying salaries, suppliers, and taxes, and fund initiatives that enhance the lives of individuals round our operations. One individual employed by us contained in the gate on the firm helps not less than 5 folks exterior the gate, as a result of our employees want totally different companies in the neighborhood across the mine.
However that doesn’t imply we stroll away from our accountability to do our half within the broader financial system. To assist the creation of respectable, sustainable jobs for the long run, you need to suppose on a big scale. We’re not making an attempt to create 20 job alternatives, however somewhat 100,000 job alternatives. And the second we begin to consider creating 100,000 jobs, out of the blue it’s not a small farming alternative right here or a PPE manufacturing facility there. We’re serious about kick-starting economies, which is why we spend money on different initiatives like infrastructure. We have to work with our communities to see mining as an enabler for creating different oblique jobs and supporting livelihoods via our social and labor plan commitments and procurement alternatives. That’s why we spend money on faculties and in native industries.
S+B: Has the pandemic accelerated your strategy to digitalization?
VILJOEN: With folks not in a position to go to websites, we’re doing web site visits digitally. We’ve executed all of our audits within the final yr digitally. As well as, our means to automate has improved our working mannequin and organizational design. We perceive our mining processes higher, and our means to observe our belongings is best.
The improved stability and up time [the continuous use of equipment] that we see via these processes is superb. If we run a course of at a sure time at a sure fee, we might be assured it can run for the total time that we anticipate it to. This results in extra steady operations. And when you have got steady operations, it’s safer, as a result of issues don’t break down and folks don’t must do unplanned work. There’s time to do your threat assessments and to verify the precise instruments and tools can be found. Digitalization is immediately associated to security, value, and effectivity.
I’ll offer you an instance. At our Anglo Converter Plant, we have now two important, interchangeable items of apparatus for processing platinum, however one unit was taken offline after an explosion. In consequence, we needed to restart the second unit, which was previous its helpful life. To handle the chance of potential water leaks, which pose a hazard if you’re working with molten steel, we put in digital measurement methods to choose up minute modifications in moisture within the fuel used within the course of that might sign hazard. The flexibility to do that allowed us to run a high-risk asset safely. If we had not managed to do this, the impression may have been huge. We course of greater than 55% of the world’s platinum group metals [PGMs]. To cease half of the world’s manufacturing would have had a basic impression on the way forward for the PGM market.
S+B: By way of the way forward for the business, how are you serious about your group’s impression on the pure atmosphere? What’s the function of innovation?
VILJOEN: We’ve been engaged on applied sciences which have allowed us to scale back our water and power consumption for 5 years, and that’s a short while within the greater scheme of issues. In my expertise within the mining business, if we begin with a brand new expertise as an thought, it will possibly take us 15 years earlier than we actually implement it.
We devour giant portions of each power and water, and we’re reimagining our processes to scale back this utilization. The last word goal can be to remove the utilization of recent potable water completely from our processes, although that’s a little bit bit additional out.
Now we have a duty to mine the mineral assets entrusted to us in a means that maximizes the advantages to stakeholders and minimizes the impression on the atmosphere and host communities.”
On the power facet, about 18 months in the past we began learn how to transition the drivetrain of the big vans that we use [from fossil fuels] to battery, electrical, or hydrogen. We’re at present working to suit a Komatsu truck with a hydrogen gasoline cell. It’s a 300-ton truck. Our objective is to ultimately convert our complete fleet to hydrogen vans. The event of an energetic hydrogen drivetrain for a truck that dimension is kind of distinctive. Past the impression that it will possibly have on mining, it can have an effect on the event of the hydrogen financial system. Our pondering round that product improvement includes not solely the speedy utility but additionally the laws, and in the end, the infrastructure required to assist the hydrogen financial system.
The thought for our hydrogen fleet is simply 18 months outdated, and we plan to have wheels on the bottom within the second half of 2021. Usually, it could have taken us a lot, for much longer.
S+B: You’ve set a goal of decreasing emissions by 30% by 2030 and of being carbon impartial by 2040. What are the most important challenges you face in assembly these objectives?
VILJOEN: The largest constraint for us is our reliance on Eskom [South Africa’s electric utility], which nonetheless depends closely on coal-fired energy stations. If we acquire a license to spend money on producing renewable power ourselves, a further problem is getting an economically viable settlement with Eskom to ship extra energy again to the grid. We may produce power in locations the place it’s extra amenable for wind and solar, for instance. However it’s a matter of how we get that renewable power from one a part of the nation to the place we’d like it, once we can’t use the grid.
S+B: Past carbon discount, are you able to inform us extra about your social assist for native communities?
VILJOEN: Usually, we have now water packages within the communities wherein we function. Due to COVID, we’ve elevated our attain from 40,000 folks and are actually supplying greater than 100,000 with 50 liters of water a day in partnership with native municipalities. We’re reaching individuals who have by no means had entry to operating water, which is life-changing, for instance, by way of sanitation. We’re doing that in two methods. We’ve drilled further water holes, and in areas the place water is scarce, we’ve bought tankers to produce that water. We’re additionally actively concerned with authorities and different mining firms in a undertaking to increase bulk water provide in Limpopo [a South African province that borders Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique], which is able to create jobs and permit improved water provide to communities.
The way in which I give it some thought is, we have now a duty to mine the mineral assets entrusted to us in a means that maximizes the advantages to stakeholders and minimizes the impression on the atmosphere and host communities. We all know that the mineral assets don’t belong to us; they belong to the folks of the nation. After which we have now our shareholders’ cash, which they entrust us with for returns. After which we have now the staff who work with us. Now we have a duty to all these stakeholders.
S+B: Which brings us again to your objective as an organization: reimagining mining to enhance folks’s lives.
VILJOEN: Our efforts are very a lot pushed by our objective and values. The aim impacts the technique—making folks’s lives higher through our group initiatives—and the technique then drives execution. And we are actually seeing a big curiosity in ESG [environmental, social, and governance] issues from traders, however I believe that’s pretty current. 5 years in the past, our traders just about held the view that ESG points have been one thing companies wanted to speak about, however they have been secondary to returns for shareholders. That’s altering in a short time. You may see the strain from traders on any power name, as an example.
Different stakeholders are additionally changing into extra energetic. Our Unki mine in Zimbabwe was just lately assessed towards the requirements set by the Initiative for Accountable Mining Assurance [IRMA], which is a gaggle designed and pushed by prospects. Our goal is to have all our operations accredited by IRMA by 2025. Clients like Tiffany’s, for instance, are ready to purchase from us at a premium as a result of that might imply they will put a stamp on a chunk of jewellery and say, sure, it’s responsibly sourced. That’s one thing that is essential to us.