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Craig Richard Bradshaw on Ten Years at Masan High Tech Materials

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Masan High-Tech Materials is a large manufacturer of mid-stream tungsten products, which is currently operating the Nui Phao polymetallic mine and a state-of-the art processing plant in Thai Nguyen province, Vietnam. The company is a major global supplier of advanced tungsten materials used in key industry sectors such as electronics, chemical, automotive, aviation and aerospace, energy and pharmaceuticals, with its own production facilities in Germany, Canada and China.

On the occasion of the company’s ten-year anniversary, in an interview with Metal Market Magazine, Masan High-Tech Materials chief executive officer Craig Bradshaw recalled his professional career leading to a ten-year journey with the firm.

“It was sheer chance that I began a career in mining, which has spanned over 30 years and four countries”, he said. His first job after leaving university was as a graduate accountant for Mount Isa Mines, a company that was later taken over by Xstrata and is now part of Glencore. He spent the first 12 years of his career at Mount Isa Mines, where he was exposed to different parts of the mining business, from working in a mine, and smelter, to working in commercial roles, port and shipping operations and the technology side of the business, Bradshaw recalled. “I was lucky enough to fall into an industry that I like and that I find interesting, and it turned out I had an affinity for because I have been in it ever since,” he added.

“For 12 years I was lucky enough to get involved in every aspect of the business from exploration, mining, flotation, smelting, refining, sales, marketing, and logistics in copper, silver, lead and zinc, and that gave me a good platform to continue to work and build a career.”
Following his time at Mount Isa Mines, Bradshaw joined Toll Holdings – a transport and logistics company. “At the time several businesses that they had acquired were poorly performing, and my job was to go in, have a look at the business and either shut it down, fix it up or merge it with other parts of the business to get better financial performance.”

After three years working for Toll Holdings in Australia, he was sent to Thailand to review the company’s oil and gas logistics business there. “After two years in Thailand and fixing that business, I ran into a mate of mine, who was working for Oxiana, which had a copper and gold project in Laos and they were looking for a commercial guy, to be based out of Laos working at their remote copper and gold operation,” he recalled.

Bradshaw spent the next three years working as a commercial manager and then as a general manager for the business there, while his boss at the time moved on to take the role of CEO of Masan Resources, now Masan High-Tech Materials. Six months later he called Bradshaw to ask him if he wanted to come to Vietnam as operations director to start up a new project, a new company.
“And so I did,” Bradshaw recalled, and he has worked on the Nui Phao project for the last ten years –initially under the previous CEO and succeeding him in August 2017.

World-class polymetallics

Nui Phao is a polymetallic tungsten, fluorite, bismuth, copper and gold ore mine located in the North of Vietnam. Bradshaw notes that it is the world’s largest tungsten mine outside China, the world’s second-largest fluorspar mine, and the largest producer of primary bismuth.
“Back when I started it was all rice paddies and buffalos,” he recalled. “We spent the next couple of years building it, building a team together, commissioning it.” Bradshaw will celebrate his ten-year anniversary at Nui Phao at the end of February.

He said that the move to Nui Phao gave him the chance to step away from his previous roles of fixing troubled businesses and to begin something new. “The attraction here was the fact that this project was a greenfield and it was the opportunity to build something from scratch as a start-up for the first time,” he recalled.
“It was a different sort of challenge, a different experience and, an opportunity indeed when someone puts a clean sheet of paper in front of you and says, ‘Build it how you think it should be built in terms of the people, the culture, the way we go about things, the way we think about things.’”

For Bradshaw, Nui Phao and Masan Resources have been the biggest highlights of his career so far. He has always looked for jobs that have got multiple dimensions to them so that they are in each case more challenging, more intellectually stimulating and have got challenges and difficulties that sometimes other people have tried to work through or resolve and have not been successful. “If you can be the person who can succeed where others haven’t, then certainly there’s a personal sense of fulfilment in that. It’s rewarding.”
“Ten years ago, we started with nothing and now we have a company that is providing 750 different tungsten products and employing about 2,100 people globally. “We have come a long way in ten years as a company and as a group of people. When you look at that you do feel a great sense of satisfaction with what we have achieved here.”

Having lived in Australia, Thailand and Laos, Vietnam is now Bradshaw’s favourite place to live. “I certainly like the great sense of community aspect that still exists in Vietnam that in Australia and in many Western countries has already disappeared,” he said. “People here look to support each other and take care of each other. It is something I have a particular affinity towards,” he added.

Long-term strategy

With the acquisition of Germany’s H.C. Starck Global Tungsten Powders, completed in June 2020, Masan Resources changed its name to Masan High-Tech Materials to reflect the evolution of the company and its future direction, Bradshaw said.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the plans formulated for the new business before the acquisition had to be temporarily shelved, “because we couldn’t move people around or the customers weren’t buying because their factories were getting shut down,” he recalled.

Some of the integration plans had to be moderated, Bradshaw continued, “and also in terms of how we are going to position ourselves relative to the market.”
He said that last year was not ideal but it is a continuum. “The fact that it doesn’t happen in 2020 doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It just means that some of the things that we want to do differently will occur in 2021 or 2022,” he explained.

“H.C. Starck has been around for 100 years. We have been around for ten years. The fact that we bought a business that has been around for 100 years means that you have got a business that will be in the game for a long period of time,” he added. “We got through 2020 and we survived. We are well positioned for an eventual uptick in the markets.”

Bradshaw said that investing downstream was always a part of Masan’s business strategy.
“Some time ago we mapped out a strategy of what we want to do and where we want to go, and we didn’t see a future in purely selling commoditized tungsten , fluorspar, copper or bismuth to the world.”
“If you purely do that, when your existing mine runs out, you are out of business. That might be 20 years down the track, but you do not want to wait years to build a sustainable business, you need to be getting on with building a long-term sustainable, perpetual business much earlier than that.”

The acquisition has opened a lot of opportunities for the company, not just in tungsten but also in other metals and minerals, he continued. “That is part of the reason why we renamed the company as Masan High-Tech Materials,” Bradshaw explained.

“The technology that H.C. Starck has, the quality of the people they have, the ideas and thinking that exists within their business, but was never fully capitalized upon under previous ownership models, is extremely exciting for us. Meshing that technology, innovation and capability with what we already have in Vietnam we expect to deliver positive long-term benefits for our customers and the company. The integration of the businesses also enables us to bring additional skills and capabilities into Vietnam and that’s certainly something that is encouraged by the Vietnamese government in terms of value added in Vietnam and servicing industry as it further develops in Vietnam,” he added.
“Our future is not just as a resources company. It is not just as a tungsten company. It is looking at strategic, critical minerals and high-tech materials and thinking about how we position ourselves to participate and ensure a long-term supply of those critical, strategic and high-tech materials in Vietnam, but also through the rest of the world.”

That is where Masan High-Tech Materials is going by moving away from being just a commodity business or a commodified business, he added. “We want to focus on what are the issues, headaches and challenges our customers have got and how do we assist them to resolve those, to make it easier, better – is it better material characteristics, improved supply chains, certainty of supply, more flexible pricing solutions, recycle solutions, product leasing, it’s really dependent on what the customer needs. Different customers and different industries have different challenges and it is not one size fits all in terms of providing a solution to a customer. It is our customers as business partners that will determine our future direction and our service offer,” he said.

Missing piece of the puzzle

“We like to partner with people and companies who have similar views of industries and businesses to us,” Bradshaw added.
Another step towards Masan’s long-term strategy was signing an agreement with Japan’s Mitsubishi Materials to develop a high-tech tungsten materials platform, following the acquisition of H.C. Starck’s tungsten business last year.

“Our customers will benefit the most, because this partnership will strengthen our ability to supply quality and innovative products and solutions,” he said. The agreement positions Masan High-Tech Materials and H.C. Starck to build a mid-stream tungsten Asian franchise, which is the missing piece of our strategic puzzle, Bradshaw added.
The ability to offer cutting-edge solutions to customers, and the strategic flexibility of being integrated across the value chain, are critical to delivering sustainable growth for Masan High-Tech Materials and will continue to be important factors in the tungsten sector.

Tungsten market

Tungsten prices were hit particularly hard through 2020 by the Covid-19 pandemic, with manufacturing disruptions and lockdown restrictions putting pressure on market demand for tungsten products for most of last year, but an uptick in prices might be on the horizon, according to Bradshaw.
Because of many manufacturing closures, a slowdown in the aerospace and automotive sectors and lower oil and gas prices, a lot of customers ran down their inventories to low levels, he noted. “All these things resulted in people buying less tungsten units and resizing their supply chains to significantly reduced activities and some customers are still destocking.”

“Companies needed to run down their stocks to meet their prevailing operating conditions, conserve cash, ultimately in times of crisis you need to survive today to be in the battle tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, but that will also come at a cost,” he added.
“Recovery through 2021 will all depend on the company, the financial position it has and ability to have held its stock versus running it down through the crisis. It will happen on a customer-by-customer basis as to the position they are in to take advantage of the recovery.”

Ammonium paratungstate (APT) prices have started to pick up at the beginning of the new year amid tightening prompt inventories while end users have returned to the market to replenish their stocks, according to Fastmarkets pricing data.

Masan High-Tech Resources sees the prices continuing to rise through 2021 before settling at a much higher level than the current price. With the destocking that occurred through 2020, companies simply do not have inventory and, based on history, it takes time for production to ramp back up when demand returns or picks up quickly. The company also notes that it takes time for the primary and secondary markets to return to equilibrium, adding that as customers restock for higher production and sales as well as increasing demand as the world returns to normal – there will be shortages. Current shortages in the logistics markets will only exacerbate this issue.

Sustainability, innovation and CSR

Innovation plays a major part in achieving and improving the sustainability of a business. Embodying a strong culture of innovation, Masan High-Tech Materials notes that its commitment to advanced technological development is not only demonstrated through the highly efficient and highly automated processing facilities that it operates around the world, but also through the issuance of over 105 patents for the manufacturing of innovative products.

The company’s sustainability goals, however, are to deliver not only improvements in product performance and environmental practices through innovation, but also improvements in social welfare and human capital development for the local communities.
“The success of the company also lies in the strategy of developing Vietnamese people, with strong experience and passion for work, to excellent world-class experts”, said Bradshaw. Over the past 20 years, the company has contributed to the formation of a generation of Vietnamese miners capable of operating state-of-the-art technologies in the field of high-tech material extraction and processing.

“The company also maintains a wide range of community development and economic restoration programs as part of our on-going commitment to safeguarding the ecosystem of the local people and stakeholders”, he added.
"We hold the view that resources must be used effectively with carefully planned activities to bring out economic value while mitigating effects on the environment and benefiting the local community in the long term, thus creating common prosperity for all. This is how we ensure sustainable development at Masan High-Tech Materials", Bradshaw emphasized.

Be curious

If Bradshaw were to give advice to a newcomer entering the mining industry now it would be to always be curious and to recognise the importance of teamwork.
“Be curious, ask lots of questions and understand that business is about people – it’s not about machines, trucks, it’s not about equipment, it’s about people and if you get a right structure with the right people, aligned to a shared vision of outcome then you will be successful,” he said. “And being part of that is rewarding, being part of a team that is successful is rewarding.”

One of the things that has served Bradshaw well in his career is his genuine interest in businesses, processes and people, he stressed. “I do tend to ask a lot of questions and I found it to be quite useful in terms of my own knowledge and interest, but also very successful in terms of, in particular, when people are facing a particular problem, or being overwhelmed with a challenge.”
“If you are good at asking questions and breaking things down into manageable bite-size pieces that people can then action, that they can drive forward with towards the outcome, then as an executive, you’re adding value to the team,” he said.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of people in the success of a business or project. Anyone can buy equipment, anyone can buy trucks, buy projects. But the difference between the businesses and projects that fail and the businesses and projects that succeed is the people. If you can get the right structure and the right people doing the right things, then lots of things are possible,” he concluded.

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