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 learning extractive metallurgy at South Africa’s North-West College, she entered the trade as a metallurgical engineer. This was almost 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 choices about how one can function underneath unprecedented restrictions and how one can present assist to staff and surrounding communities. The corporate additionally needed to declare drive majeure on deliveries to clients following the momentary shutdown of a key processing plant. One 12 months 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 explanation: sturdy worldwide demand for the corporate’s valuable metals pushed by the rising crucial to develop clear applied sciences. PGMs are used to decrease emissions from inner combustion engines and within the manufacturing of hydrogen and in gas cells for electrical automobiles, and are being studied as a means to enhance the efficiency of lithium batteries.
Underneath Viljoen’s management, the corporate has set a course for modernization and expertise funding that can automate processes, enhance security, and additional its sustainability targets. As Viljoen lately defined in a video interview with technique+enterprise, she credit the corporate’s human-centered goal with serving to her by 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 goal?
VILJOEN: Our goal as a company is “reimagining mining to enhance individuals’s lives.” Within the final 12 months, we’ve requested ourselves, “How will we construct a tradition and set up methods of working throughout the framework of that goal and the values we selected?”
For instance, in a time of giant uncertainty, just like the pandemic, we needed to resolve how one can reply. We needed to ask, “Do we’ve the monetary means to take care of our individuals and our communities?” Our goal and our values helped us to make these choices. Throughout most of final 12 months, 1,500 of our staff [out of 23,000] weren’t at work, however we continued to pay them. We nonetheless have greater than 200 staff not but again to work who we proceed to pay.
In hindsight, this is able to 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 individuals. As an alternative, it was guided by our goal. I believe the truth that we lived our values in the course of the pandemic will stand us in good stead in the long run. We see that appreciation in our communities, and in our individuals.
S+B: You’ve now been at Anglo American for seven years, serving as CEO of Anglo American Platinum for the final 12 months. How have you ever been capable of affect the group’s tradition?
VILJOEN: Once I got here into the function of CEO, I needed to get to know the enterprise inside out. I’ve achieved interviews with greater than 160 members of my senior staff. We’ve additionally performed surveys over a interval of 4 years throughout the enterprise, proper all the way down to the frontline degree. 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 info when issues go fallacious. And in a enterprise our dimension, with simply over 30,000 individuals, 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 fastened it, as a result of we’re removed from that, however I definitely see way more of an openness to have interaction.
For instance, deep-level underground mining is a tricky setting to work in. I consider that it’s important to get toes on the bottom to actually perceive the group. Just lately, I went underground with a staff to have interaction 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 lately in the course of 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 dwelling, however till we attain the frontline employee, we’ve not but achieved our work.
S+B: What are among the different adjustments occurring, each at your organization and inside your trade?
VILJOEN: Once 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 setting. 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 an alternative 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 bathroom. These examples are fairly primary, however we’re shifting on fairly shortly from these.
For the advantage of all staff, we’re attempting to modernize our workplaces. One of many issues we’re doing is shifting from pneumatic drills to electrical drills, that are a lot safer. In truth, we’re within the strategy of automating all our drills. We have now a staff 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 aspect of the coin, while you automate and also you digitize, you want fewer individuals. As a significant job supplier in your area, how are you serious about this problem?
VILJOEN: For fairly a while, I believed that simply because we might automate sure processes, it didn’t imply we should always—as a result of it might scale 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 protected and to stay aggressive. The most important contribution we will make to society is to maintain working 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 particular person employed by us contained in the gate on the firm helps a minimum of 5 individuals outdoors the gate, as a result of our staff want totally different providers locally across the mine.
However that doesn’t imply we stroll away from our accountability to do our half within the broader economic system. To assist the creation of respectable, sustainable jobs for the long run, it’s important to suppose on a big scale. We’re not attempting 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 by 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 individuals not capable of go to websites, we’re doing web site visits digitally. We’ve achieved all of our audits within the final 12 months 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 property is healthier.
The improved stability and up time [the continuous use of equipment] that we see by these processes is wonderful. If we run a course of at a sure time at a sure charge, we might be assured it is going to run for the total time that we anticipate it to. This results in extra secure operations. And when you will have secure 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 ensure the correct instruments and tools can be found. Digitalization is instantly associated to security, price, and effectivity.
I’ll offer you an instance. At our Anglo Converter Plant, we’ve two essential, interchangeable items of kit 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 while you’re working with molten steel, we put in digital measurement techniques to select up minute adjustments in moisture within the gasoline used within the course of that may sign hazard. The power to do that allowed us to run a high-risk asset safely. If we had not managed to do this, the affect might have been monumental. 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 affect on the way forward for the PGM market.
S+B: By way of the way forward for the trade, how are you serious about your group’s affect on the pure setting? 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 trade, if we begin with a brand new expertise as an concept, it might probably take us 15 years earlier than we actually implement it.
We devour massive portions of each power and water, and we’re reimagining our processes to scale back this utilization. The last word intention could be to get rid of the utilization of recent potable water fully from our processes, although that’s slightly bit additional out.
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 affect on the setting and host communities.”
On the power aspect, about 18 months in the past we began taking a look at how one can transition the drivetrain of the massive 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 gas cell. It’s a 300-ton truck. Our purpose is to ultimately convert our complete fleet to hydrogen vans. The event of an lively hydrogen drivetrain for a truck that dimension is sort of distinctive. Past the affect that it might probably have on mining, it is going to have an effect on the event of the hydrogen economic system. Our considering round that product improvement entails not solely the speedy software but in addition the laws, and in the end, the infrastructure required to assist the hydrogen economic system.
The concept for our hydrogen fleet is simply 18 months previous, 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 lowering emissions by 30% by 2030 and of being carbon impartial by 2040. What are the most important challenges you face in assembly these targets?
VILJOEN: The most important constraint for us is our reliance on Eskom [South Africa’s electric utility], which nonetheless depends closely on coal-fired energy stations. If we receive a license to spend money on producing renewable power ourselves, an extra problem is getting an economically viable settlement with Eskom to ship extra energy again to the grid. We might 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’ve water packages within the communities by which we function. Due to COVID, we’ve elevated our attain from 40,000 individuals and at the moment are 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 working water, which is life-changing, for instance, when it comes to sanitation. We’re doing that in two methods. We’ve drilled extra water holes, and in areas the place water is scarce, we’ve received tankers to provide 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 can create jobs and permit improved water provide to communities.
The best way I give it some thought is, we’ve a duty to mine the mineral assets entrusted to us in a means that maximizes the advantages to stakeholders and minimizes the affect on the setting and host communities. We all know that the mineral assets don’t belong to us; they belong to the individuals of the nation. After which we’ve our shareholders’ cash, which they entrust us with for returns. After which we’ve the staff who work with us. We have now a duty to all these stakeholders.
S+B: Which brings us again to your goal as an organization: reimagining mining to enhance individuals’s lives.
VILJOEN: Our efforts are very a lot pushed by our goal and values. The aim impacts the technique—making individuals’s lives higher through our group initiatives—and the technique then drives execution. And we at the moment are 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’ll be able to see the strain from traders on any power name, as an example.
Different stakeholders are additionally turning into extra lively. Our Unki mine in Zimbabwe was lately assessed towards the requirements set by the Initiative for Accountable Mining Assurance [IRMA], which is a gaggle designed and pushed by clients. Our intention 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 may imply they’ll put a stamp on a chunk of bijou and say, sure, it’s responsibly sourced. That’s one thing that is essential to us.