Anglo Platinum is the world’s largest platinum miner. A subsidiary of Anglo American, the mining company, AngloPlat now has more than 88,000 full-time employees and contractors and provides more than a third of global output of the metal.
One of the problems facing the South Africa-based producer is that it has a hierarchical company culture that is firmly rooted in the past and does not sit well in a democratic South Africa.
“Our current leadership style is not appropriate for the kind of culture and environment we operate in,” says Neville Nicolau, who took over as chief executive officer in June.
This culture could well be behind the company’s poor safety record – an issue that has dogged the company for a long time. Mine fatalities jumped to 25 last year from 18 in 2006. AngloPlat’s own benchmark figures show that in 2007, when it suffered 25 fatalities, its rival Impala Platinum – across all operations – suffered 13 and Lonmin Platinum six. In 2006, Impala had seven fatalities and Lonmin eight.
“We were finding more and more that our safety record is not improving. In some senses, it’s worsening. In tackling the safety challenge, we have no choice but to go back to the culture that drives the safety behaviour of mining,” says Lorato Mogaki, AngloPlat’s head of human resources development and transformation.
This year, AngloPlat began working with Duke Corporate Education, the global provider of customised corporate education and a not-for-profit arm of Duke University, to implement a corporate training programme that would change that culture. The first stage of the company’s Leadership Academy is a series of five-day training programmes that began last month and is due to continue until next April. This stage focuses on the company’s 10,000-odd frontline supervisors at mine and operations level. The programme aims to teach basic management skills such as communication, running meetings and disciplining staff.
“Some of our people do not know how to lead. They can drill holes but they do not know how to lead,” Ms Mogaki says.
The programme also reflects the changes in South Africa. In personal change workshops, black and white employees come together “to talk about their baggage”, she says.
Whole teams undergo the programme at the same time. To prevent the participants’ newly learnt skills from being killed by the “cement layer” of middle managers – the fate of many an optimistic, but unsustainable, training programme – the senior leadership will also be reinforcing the message, says Todd Warner, the managing director of Duke CE’s London office.
“We’re trying to put pressure from top, with GMs, heads of departments pushing down and frontline supervisors pushing up,” Mr Warner says.
The programme, which will be progressively rolled out to higher management levels over a period of two to three years, may not just bring benefits within the company. In addition to its safety problems, AngloPlat has a poor reputation for its relations with communities in the areas it mines. The company came under criticism by South Africa’s Human Rights Commission last month for the way it treated villagers near one of its mines in Limpopo in the north of South Africa.
“If we change how people think, we tend to change how they impact not just on employees but on the broader community,” Ms Mogaki says.
However, changing the course of such an old and large ship as Anglo Platinum is not just the matter of a few years’ worth of corporate training. “It’s going to take a generation,” she says.