It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Canadian mining sector. A significant employer and major contributor to the nation’s GDP1, it is imperative that the industry be guided by competent and effective leadership. Yet in mining, like all industries, there will eventually and inevitably be a changing of the guard at the top.
“Titans of the mining industry who have led the industry through myriad storms for decades are set to retire over the next few years,” according to a Reuters report that went on to describe the shift as “a once-in-a-generation turnover that has sparked a search for fresh talent with far different skills than current executives.”2
Mining companies are well advised to plan ahead for such eventualities by including succession planning at or near the top of their priorities. But what is succession planning and why is it important? How can talent be identified and where can it be found?
Mining Leader as Advocate
With an intense spotlight being shone upon the mining industry, the ability to effectively advocate for a company is as important a trait in a leadership candidate as other more traditional logistical skills. Environmental concerns, land usage and legislation are top of mind and shepherding a company through these complex processes will prove to be paramount to success. Effective stakeholder engagement is a precursor to actual mining so, when mining companies are developing a business exit strategy, they should look to entrust the leadership to individuals who understand the concept of social licence and are comfortable engaging the public with regards to these issues.
“History’s greatest leaders had the power to communicate a vision compellingly and clearly, and this is as true in our industry as anywhere,” writes Will Coetzer for Bulletin. “There are natural communicators out there, such as Ross Beaty and Rick Rule, whom I’ve seen hold an audience of seasoned miners spellbound.”3
Other Traits of Effective Mining Leadership
Of course effective leadership in mining involves many of the same traits possessed by good leaders in any sector: the ability to learn from mistakes, to motivate and connect with personnel within the company and a good work ethic.
According to Henry Goldbeck of Goldbeck Recruiting, technology is top of mind for those engaged in the succession planning process in any industry.
“They’re looking for people with a progressive management style and an understanding of how technology can support the growth and competitiveness of their business and every area of their business, from operations, logistics, manufacturing, sales and marketing, etc.” says Goldbeck.
Nurturing Talent When Preparing Exit Strategies
Ensuring that the pipeline is stacked with qualified talent is a matter of both recruitment and development. Despite this, many mining companies fail to invest in adequate mentoring programs.3 Companies properly invested in succession planning will work to put their most promising internal candidates in situations where they are able to grow, and will promote leadership roles to those who, in turn, continue to prioritize this spirit of development.
Recruiting Leadership: Experience vs. Aptitude
Although direct experience with mining is a great asset for a leadership candidate, those in other industries who exhibit desired leadership qualities should not be discounted. As we outlined in our year end labor report, the mining industry will often lose talented individuals to construction or other sectors. There is no reason that the reverse cannot hold true. In particular, there are individuals who started off in mining only to gain significant leadership experience after leaving the industry. This pool should not be overlooked.
Attracting Top Talent
Although equity is often involved in GM positions, this is not universal. According to Henry Goldbeck, there is an emphasis upon clarity.
“They’re not making it up as they go,” he observes. “The equity situation is usually pretty well defined. Everyone is doing more of it, so they’re following a process that they’ve established is best for them, and there’s less flexibility.”
Generally speaking, candidates are placing a premium upon work/life balance and long term development opportunities. Having said that, monetary compensation obviously remains an important factor.
The bottom line is that the best approach to succession planning is an ongoing spirit of talent development, paired with a clear definition of company objectives and a healthy and open minded recruitment approach. In doing so, mining companies will be able to install the kind of leadership that will lead the sector into a bright future.