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Profile Review

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The cover profiles published in Metal Market Magazine provide real-life examples of good business leadership, management and strategy given by leaders with extensive practical experience of running international companies. Only the full published interviews give details of each individual leader’s route to the top and their company’s strategy at the time of original publication, but the summaries of the past year’s cover profiles collected together here provide a valuable and inspirational range of some of the key experiences and insights on leadership and management included in 2021.

Holman Head: “The trend of improvements in IT will continue with the impact of big data and artificial intelligence”

Service center growth

In reflecting on his 40-year career with O’Neal Industries, Inc. (ONI) of Birmingham, Alabama, Holman Head thought about all the changes that metal service centers faced and his response to them. Considering four decades of profound change in nearly all facets of how a successful business operates – and his many roles in managing that change – Head said, “I feel like Forrest Gump,” the fictional lead in an American movie of the same name about facing – and successfully managing – life’s twists and turns. “Like Forrest, I too have been in the right place at the right time in many aspects of my life. He embraced hard work and integrity to become successful in many different roles, and I think for the most part, I did too,” said Head (MMM January 2021).

Head successfully tackled multiple positions in his years with ONI before he retired on September 30, 2020 as president and chief operating officer. ONI is a large family-owned network of metals service centers and component and tube manufacturing businesses which celebrated its centenary last year, having been founded by Kirkman O’Neal in 1921.

Head started his career with O’Neal Steel in 1980, two years after he graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. His decision to attend the prestigious university was heavily influenced by his mother. “I have frequently done things in my life that were what other people wanted or expected. Many got me out of my comfort zone, but all of them have helped me grow. One of those was going to Washington and Lee,” he said.

The skills taught there have served Head well. “One of the advantages of a liberal arts education is developing both as an individual and acquiring critical thinking skills. It was a period of tremendous personal growth that has served me well during the course of my career,” Head reflected. Armed with his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, Head moved to Birmingham, where he worked in outside sales for Vulcan Materials Corporation, selling aggregate and crushed stone.

Two years after Head joined O’Neal Steel in 1980 in inside sales, the year 1982 was a major turning point in the US metals industry as companies used a laser focus to identify and reduce costs. A two-year move within O’Neal Steel to its district office in Memphis, Tennessee put Head back in front of the customers through his role in outside sales, which “really taught me how to listen to and communicate with many different kinds of people. I also learned how to communicate with people in a group and recognize that while everyone was hearing the same thing at the same time, not all people were understanding at the same time. Sometimes the timing of the message is even more important than the content,” he explained.

When Head returned to Birmingham in 1984 to work in marketing, O’Neal Steel was rapidly changing. Thinking about the tremendous change in how companies conduct business since the early 1980s, Head quickly pointed to the evolution and integration of IT as the most impactful trend that changed both the face of O’Neal Steel and the entire service center sector. “When I started, O’Neal Steel had a huge mainframe computer with a room full of tape drives. There were no word processors or personal computers, and fax machines were barely making a mark. As technology advanced, those who understood its power and could invest reaped great benefits from increased productivity, improved asset management and better competitive knowledge.

“Information technology also increased transparency throughout the supply chain, which eliminated waste and forced extreme discipline on operating cost. In 1980, we quoted on the phone using price pages. Today, a significant percentage of O’Neal Steel’s line items go through the ecommerce site PRONTO™. That same system notifies the customers when they are the next delivery stop. ONI is utilizing big data to drive improvements. We’re able to measure and analyze things in ways we’ve never been able to do in the past,” Head explained.

Strategic acquisition

Evolving and leading-edge technology helped O’Neal Steel expand organically in the 1980s and 1990s in the Southeast and then into the Midwest and Southwest USA. But company leadership within O’Neal Steel saw opportunities for strategic acquisitions to expand its products and services for metals consumers. In 1997, the company acquired Metalwest, O’Neal Steel’s first stand-alone subsidiary, followed the next year by the development of a weldment operation in Monterrey, Mexico, now known as O’Neal de México, the first business outside the US. Further US and international acquisitions have followed in this millennium. Late in 2005, for example, the major acquisition of TW Metals expanded the geographic reach worldwide to Europe and Asia.

After growing into many separate and unique companies, in 2008 the shareholders formed the parent company, ONI, to better manage the growth of the business and to provide some corporate support functions for the subsidiary companies, such as mergers and acquisitions, financial reporting, legal, corporate compliance and tax services. Each ONI company continued to manage its own core functions such as sales, operations and purchasing.

As the company grew, so did Head’s responsibilities, advancing through vice president of purchasing and product development, senior vice president of the southern region, and then president and chief executive officer of O’Neal Steel.

He saw value for his company and for its customers through the creation of O’Neal Manufacturing Services. “We created O’Neal Manufacturing Services as a way to capture work for OEMs that they had previously outsourced. We had the capital to invest in highly specialized equipment and were able to generate enough business to operate three shifts a day seven days a week, whereby the OEMs may only need to run their machines for one shift a week. The OEMs avoided the cost of the specialized machinery, and we were able to efficiently provide them with value-added services. In addition, we had businesses with similar equipment and were able to shift the volume between businesses when needed,” Head explained.

Additional acquisitions included Vulcanium Metals in 2013, the British firm of Locate Supplies Ltd, made by the ONI affiliate TW Metals, and G&L Tube of Cookeville, Tennessee, in 2018. A factor supporting consolidation in the distribution side of the metals industry has been fuelled by the steady decline over 40 years in producers owning distributors.

Head recalled that “in the 1980s, many mills owned service centers. Our customers wanted to buy stock material and process it all the way through a finished product. Today, I don’t believe any domestic mills are truly in the distribution business, and they do see value in the service centers, which are in their top two customer segments. Producers want to focus on making the material and not distributing it. Our OEM customers want to assemble parts, focusing on engineering and design. The gap between the two creates a great market for service centers.”

More to be done

As much as the industry has advanced through consolidation and innovation, there is more to be done in Head’s view. “Despite tremendous consolidation over the last 40 years, the service center industry is still highly fragmented,” he observed. “It is increasingly difficult to get an adequate return on invested capital. There has always been a debate as to the value the service center provides in the metals supply chain. In the 1980s, the story was cost of possession. Then came value-added processing. I believe the trend of improvements in IT will continue with the impact of big data and artificial intelligence. The trend in less vertical integration will continue. The service centers that win in the future are those that can provide value to both our customers and suppliers. That value will come from continually harnessing changing technologies. Though technology provides for less interpersonal interaction, I do believe that people find a way to do business with people they want to do business with. Those relationships help sell and communicate the value provided.”

Craig Richard Bradshaw: “We have come a long way in ten years as a company and as a group of people”

Building a mining company

Masan High-Tech Materials CEO Craig Bradshaw succeeded in his early career in mining as a trouble-shooter fixing underperforming parts of businesses, but for the past ten years he has relished the opportunity to help to build a new mining company (MMM February 2021).

Masan High-Tech Materials is a large manufacturer of mid-stream tungsten products, which operates 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 many industries, with its own production facilities in Germany, Canada and China.

“It was sheer chance that I began a career in mining, which has spanned over 30 years and four countries”, Bradshaw 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 many different parts of the mining business.

“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,” he recalled.

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 working in Thailand and fixing that business, he ran into a friend who was working for Oxiana, which had a copper and gold project in Laos. They were looking for a commercial manager 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. He initially worked on the Nui Phao project under the previous CEO and succeeded him in August 2017.

World-class polymetallics

Bradshaw noted that Nui Phao, a polymetallic tungsten, fluorite, bismuth, copper and gold ore mine located in the North of Vietnam, 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 celebrated his ten-year anniversary at Nui Phao at the end of February 2021.

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. “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.”

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.

He 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 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,” he explained further. “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.”

“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.

“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.

Sustainability

“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

Bradshaw’s advice to a newcomer entering the mining industry now 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.

“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. 

Inka Guixà: ‘The family is at the service of the company and not the other way around’

Leading copper recycling

In her early career, La Farga CEO Inka Guixà had not considered working for the business founded by her father and grandfather, but in her late-20s she accepted an invitation to join the company and assist in its expansion.

Barcelona, Spain-born Guixà was the second of five children – three girls and two boys. Her father Oriol, an engineer, had been working at La Farga since just after her birth, and he was one of the founders of the recycled copper continuous casting company, based on a business with a very long heritage. But a career at the same company for Guixà was not on the cards then, she recalled (MMM March 2021).

Guixà is a graduate in Business Administration and Management from Esade in Barcelona and she has a Master’s degree in Business Administration (BA & MBA). She also participated in an exchange program in Vancouver, Canada, at the University of British Columbia.

“I liked the feel of trade marketing, so I joined brewery company Damm Group, and was there for around two years. But at a certain point I thought I needed more. The opportunities the company were able to give me were not coming at the speed I wanted,” she said.

She decided to join a strategic consultancy, Antares Consulting, in order to experience the whole spectrum of its business. “I went from junior consultant to project manager in less than two years, and really enjoyed it, but I have to admit at the end there was something that I hadn’t expected: I was on the path towards being a little bit burnt out,” she added.

One of her former senior managers called her about a position he had, encouraging her to work with him. She consequently joined Novartis Farmacéutica in a department that focused on internal consulting. “Its objective was to analyze the sales department and determine the best strategy to manage the sales force in order to achieve a better result. I really enjoyed the role,” Guixà said.

Everything changed one day when, age 28, she and her boyfriend, now her husband, were invited to dinner with her parents. “They said, ‘Inka, we’re looking for someone in La Farga to expand the business and we think it might be the right moment for you to join.’ It was quite shocking and really unexpected. I’d gotten involved with the board around 18 months previously, but I saw it as normal because we were a family business and had responsibility as shareholders, but nothing else,” she said.

She made the decision in partnership with her boyfriend to accept the role; Guixà understood that as a couple, professional and personal success required a balanced, joint approach. “We knew it was something I couldn’t decide by myself; it was a family project. So, we decided together,” she added.

Joining La Farga

Guixà joined La Farga in 2009, when it already had a heritage over two centuries old and had a long history in copper. When Guixà joined, she began her role as the expansion manager in its newly formed international business, which was focused on growth outside Spain plus the sale of the company’s recycling technology abroad. After a series of negotiations, investment overseas quickly followed in the form of a railway products joint venture in China. Guixà’s team simultaneously started looking for a business in the US, laying the groundwork for the eventual creation of SDI La Farga, its joint venture with Steel Dynamics, which produces recycled copper wire and rod.

“Managing the sale of technology at that time allowed me to understand the position La Farga had in the copper recycling business as well as redefine our approach to the sale of that technology,” she recalled. “I worked very closely with my father and our great relationship really helped a lot. I had the opportunity to see different kinds of approaches to negotiations, which was really beneficial for me professionally.”

In 2013, Guixà became general director of planning and strategic management. “From that position I had the chance to deal with the different areas within the organization, identify the strengths and weaknesses, implement new procedures as well as define the mission of the company for the following years. It was quite a run,” she noted. Although La Farga is a family-owned business, Guixà said company interests are placed ahead of family. “We understand that between family and business, what we need to protect is always the business and not the family,” she said. “The family is at the service of the company and not the other way around.”

At a certain point, it was clear that Guixà could succeed her father and the executive team began to lay the ground for the transition. In 2017, he became company president and she became CEO. “In a family business everyone talks about the importance of succession, but the clue is you need to have somebody able to say, ‘Okay, my turn is over, I need to step aside and let someone else have a go,’ despite still having the passion, ability, energy to do the job themself. My father has done an amazing job of understanding the point at which he should do this – I take my hat off to him,” she acknowledged. “The transition is finished, without any issues. I still talk to him all the time about the business. I am very different – he is 100% an engineer, and I am not, but in that sense, we complement each other perfectly,” she said.

21st Century challenges

In her new role, she set about adapting La Farga to 21st century challenges such as digitalization, globalization and sustainability. “Preparing for succession meant not only preparing myself; it also meant preparing the organization for what succession meant. That meant determining what La Farga would look like in the future and what challenges it would face as a company,” she added.

“We knew what we wanted La Farga to be in the future, and we had the fundamentals to achieve it; the challenge was how to make it sustainable in the long run while keeping the values that define us and make La Farga unique,” she recalled.

Despite its international growth, Guixà said La Farga tries to maintain the philosophy of being a family, including giving its staff room to develop – herself being a case in point. “Normally companies give what I call ‘small suits’ when they promote someone – they make sure the person will succeed and the amount of risk they take is very little. The suit already fits,” she said. “Our way of seeing it is that to promote people and help them grow as professionals, we need to give challenges and provide ‘bigger suits’ that don’t fit perfectly the first time they’re worn. The challenge is to eventually fit the suit.”

La Farga’s agility as a family business has also allowed it to drive innovation, something Guixà said is in the company’s DNA and requires taking risks. Citing an example when the company had to decide the fate of a plant, Guixà said the standard choice would be between closing it and investing the money elsewhere, or taking a chance and trying to develop a new technology that could help it succeed. A typical board, she noted, would opt for the safe bet. “In our case, if you present something innovative and can explain why you’d succeed and what its benefits are, we go for it. Taking those kinds of risks allows you to identify new opportunities and sometimes new technologies, ideas, and developments. This is something in our case that defines us,” she added.

Sustainability

The whole copper value chain understands it needs to try to do its part in the decarbonization process, Guixà noted. “This means ensuring the whole product it is selling, the process used to make it, the raw materials consumed to produce it, and the second life it is given after it being used in the market, are sustainable. Making the production process more sustainable is a good first step, but we need to make the actual product fully sustainable, and that will be the real challenge,” she added.

This will require governments to step up and mandate the increased use of secondary copper where possible, and promote the circular economy and urban mining, in which raw materials are reclaimed from spent products, buildings and waste.

“The obligation we have as an industry is to give life to that copper; it cannot be lost. We really need to promote this. But promoting this requires regulations, and that we put our energy into understanding and developing technology in order to be able to recirculate as much as possible,” she added.

“Global trends of industrialization, decarbonization and electrification are supportive of a vision of long-term copper demand,” Guixà said. “We need to see how regulations evolve, but if we’re able to implement the right policies, there’s a bright future for copper,” Guixà added.

Her advice to new starters in copper? The industry is “very captive; it really engages you and has a lot of passion in it. I would advise anyone joining it to be themself – it’s the only way,” she said. “Think about what your objective is, what you really want, and go for it. Whether you succeed or not, at least you will be you.”


Stephen Montague: ‘We want people who have the mindset to really love and serve others’

DRI and decarbonization

Midrex Technologies, owned by Kobe Steel Ltd of Japan, sets great store by the development of the major DRI and HBI production plants that it designs, supplies, and helps to maintain globally. President & CEO Stephen Montague is passionate about the importance of people in his company’s success and the attitude and focus needed to have a positive impact in a decarbonizing steel industry.

He appeared as a modest, self-effacing leader during a mid-March interview with MMM (April 2021). “I’m a blue-collar man in a white-collar job,” he said with a smile and went on to recall that his first job with Midrex Technologies, back in 1987, came about as a financial necessity. “I was in college and working for a metal fabricator, but that wasn’t working out,” he said. Unhappy with the job, he decided to leave.

“For a 19-year-old, that was a traumatic experience because I needed the money. When I left that job I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was blessed to have an opportunity at Midrex to become a draftsman for the summer, and that got me started,” he recalled.

Montague started working at Midrex during the summers while he was in college. “I did that for a couple of summers but bluntly, I needed a change and ran out of money,” he said. “I left school and Midrex hired me full time. I worked for 2-3 years, learned a lot, and had some good managers,” he recalled.

Taking their advice and a leave of absence, he returned to school and took “about a year” to finish his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University. Returning to Midrex, which has its headquarters and R&D Technology Center in Charlotte, NC, it was not long before he got a taste for the excitement and challenges of working on-site at a plant location.

“I’ve always considered myself a technical person – not your PhD type but someone having a good aptitude for understanding the technical side – and that led me to really understanding how plants operate,” he explained. “When you have to work through issues and troubleshoot problems, your mind starts to see ways that things could be done better and before you know it, you’re in technology development or R&D,” he added.

Life-cycle satisfaction

Montague said that the highlights of his career have come through the life-cycle satisfaction that planning and delivering plant projects offers. “You start with the dream, you design it, you build it, you start it up, you operate it, you see the mistakes, and then you fix them... and of course, there are the people you encounter along the way – that is the pay-off,” he said. He likes seeing how the pieces fit together, and he appreciates that “Nothing is really linear, you go around and around.”

One of the earliest opportunities to experience that satisfaction came from a one-year posting to work on a project in India in 1994-95. “There was a lot of trust placed in me,” he recalled. “I was a twentysomething responsible for the commissioning and start-up of a new MIDREX® plant in a place where at that time there was literally just a rice paddy between the river and the mountain. Now when I go back to JSW Dolvi they make about 5 million tonnes of steel each year, and you have to search to find the DR plant among all the other equipment.”

Montague acknowledged that his current day job is pretty calm compared with working in the field, but he draws motivation from such memories: “When things really get tough and you wonder why you are doing the things you are, it is those real-life events and stories of the people you have met and worked with along the way that push you a little harder.” Reaching his present role as president and CEO was a further 23-year journey along a path that encompassed both technical and commercial roles, including engineering, operations, technology development, and sales. He was promoted to president and COO in 2016, and was named CEO the following year.

DRI and decarbonization

“I think the role of DRI is changing and the importance of DRI is evolving as everyone is moving towards decarbonization,” said Montague. “It is critical that we really look at ways to move ahead together, as an industry,” he observed. “I look at the trends and we are absolutely going to see the growth of electric steelmaking. We are already seeing that in China, as well. We have to push for lower emissions and find ways to make high-quality steel lighter and stronger.”

“If you start to put those pieces together, they really point to DRI. I don’t know how you get there with scrap alone – there is not enough of it, and even if you could get it, it is not always of the quality you need. It really is a driving force behind DRI use,” he declared.

He thinks that decarbonization is the biggest challenge to face the iron & steel industries in decades. “In my career, I have experienced the steel business cycles. Having to manage through them and now Covid-19 has been hard. But looking at the challenges ahead to decarburize the industry, it is going to be an even harder journey. It is not like a light switch that you just flip and everything is okay – it will require companies to transform how they think and their production facilities and everyone must be prepared to help. That is a role that DRI is going to play.”

Montague does not underestimate the scale of the task ahead: “There is an enormous transition that steelmakers are going to have to undergo – it’s a journey. I think DRI is part of this journey for steelmakers. Our aim is to help with that journey through providing a technology that uses a wide range of iron ore feed and lower CO2 energy sources. We will continue using high-Fe feed materials in MIDREX plants, as is traditionally done for EAF steelmaking, and begin using lower-Fe feeds to make a product that is more suitable for a blast furnace or even for a new kind of melter – one that is electric-based but optimized for lower-Fe DRI.

“All the while knowing that when hydrogen becomes available, we start using it. If hydrogen is not available, we use natural gas, but we do it in a location where there is going to be affordable ‘green’ electricity in the future to produce hydrogen. We can bring carbon dioxide emissions down 50-60% relative to BF/BOF by making high-quality steel from a blend of scrap and DRI. When we transition to hydrogen, just think how much better we can do over time,” Montague said, adding, “Why not start moving that way with the technology that we already have?”

He sees a solution where a lot of steelmakers could benefit from not just importing iron ore but by moving towards electric steelmaking and importing low CO2 metallics produced in favorable locations at scale with MIDREX technology, using the energy source that is available today and operating with a wide range of iron ore quality, knowing that they have the flexibility to change to hydrogen as it becomes available.

“Could steelmakers benefit from clubbing together to share the offtake from these larger plants that produce at scale in the right locations? You bet!”

“There are some very special locations, even today, where you can align direct reduction with renewable electricity sources to generate hydrogen and start moving towards ‘green’ steel,” he stressed.

He said the company’s vision is simple. “We have a technology platform that is ready to produce DRI using natural gas today, hydrogen if it is available, and increasing amounts of hydrogen as it becomes available in the future. We have the ability to make hot DRI available on-site for electric steelmaking and to make merchant HBI to ship to steelmakers. This lower CO2 direct reduced iron is relevant not just to an EAF but also on a merchant basis, in the case of HBI, to the blast furnace and BOF to help with their transition,” he explained.

There has to be an investment in low CO2 metallics, he said. “From that point of view, you have to invest in a technology that allows you to make the right products today, at the desired quality, at a reasonable price, and with a lower CO2 footprint, but also having the ability to get to zero carbon dioxide emissions over time. That is what Midrex offers,” he explained.

He is clear about Midrex’s management philosophy. “We have two bottom lines: people and profits. If you just focus on the money side and do not take care of the people – and I mean our teammates, our customers, our community, and their families – then what have you gained? At the same time, you can’t take care of people if you don’t make a profit.

“It may surprise you, but at Midrex our stated purpose is to love and serve others. It is a recognition that most people will talk about serving customers and the notion of service, but the attitude you bring to how you serve is just as important as the act itself. We are a service company and that’s where we really put our focus – serving people,” he explained.

 Kaihua Xu: ‘Resources are limited, recycling is unlimited’

Building recycling in China

GEM chairman Kaihua Xu has worked on building a path for recycling in China since the mid-1990s.

Founded in December 2001, GEM Co., Ltd has become one of the leading battery recyclers and battery materials producers in China. The company contributes to 10% of recycling of electronics wastes and 10% of discarded batteries in China, as well as 5% of automobile recycling in the country. The volume of cobalt it recycles has exceeded the primary cobalt mining yield in China, and its volume of recycled nickel is at a level equivalent to 8% of nickel from primary mining in China. In addition, it supplies over 15% of global nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) and nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA) precursor materials. GEM, which stands for green eco manufacture, has also become the business philosophy and entrepreneurial faith for Xu (MMM May 2021).

Studying in Central South University, Xu chose to research recycling of tin from toothpaste tubes as his college graduation project in 1985. “If I can extract tin from toothpaste tube wastes and produce the recycled tin into stannous sulfate, it will help to cut China’s dependence on imported cargoes,” Xu recalled.

The project was successful and inspired Xu to pursue recycling as his academic direction, while his interest in this area was further strengthened following the successful application of innovations in producing high-purity iron powders from recycled steel scraps.

The second half of the 1990s saw China starting to rely heavily on imported metallurgical raw materials. “Some of the Chinese cities with rich metallurgical resources became depleted; for instance, Daye in Hubei province, which was once the place of origin for the country’s copper refining and manufacturing,” Xu said. He also noted that besides imports of overseas resources, a few giant refineries in China started to secure raw materials by acquiring or investing in mining projects outside China, but not all of them were successful.

Xu asked himself then whether there was a third path, and his answer was recycling. “We had a strong feeling in mid-1990s that China’s own resources can’t satisfy the country’s manufacturing and economic development, [therefore,] we need to build a path of recycling,” he said.

Xu went to Tokyo University in 2001 as a visiting scholar in the Yamamoto research lab, and the experience contributed to the change in his career path. “The deepest impression I had was that Japanese research institutes didn’t spend a lot of time and energy in researching metallurgical refining, instead, they focused on researching recycling, or in other words, utilizing urban mining,” Xu said.

In addition, many giant enterprises in Japan were also dedicated to research and investment in recycling, he added. “It shocked me when China was still relying on imports of ores and concentrates, Japan had already developed its recycled resources to replace primary feedstock,” he said. “I came to realize it should also be the way that China needs to take.”

Ryoichi Yamamoto, a scientist dedicated to eco-innovation and Xu’s tutor in Tokyo University, told Xu the green industry would be the largest industry among all, noting that the limitation of Earth was the limitation of the environment.

“On top of all, Yamamoto told me that scholars needed to commercialize their innovations instead of just doing research at campus.” This brought a few reflections to Xu and pointed to a clear direction of what role he could play in the path of recycling in China.

Establishing GEM

Xu, together with two of his college friends, decided to establish a company to roll out the philosophy of green and eco, which they named as GEM. “It represents a green aspiration,” he said. GEM is the first company in China to put forward the concept of “resources are limited, recycling is unlimited,” and started to implement urban mining.

GEM was founded in Shenzhen, a vibrant hub of consumer electronics in southern China. Xu said one of the reasons they chose to set up the company in that city was that it was a place where entrepreneurs could establish their business with minimal initial investments due to local government support, and what they lacked at that time was money.

The introduction by the EU of restrictions in 2003 on the use of several hazardous substances in consumer electronics, including lead, cadmium and mercury among others provided an opportunity. As a result, Xu and his business partners decided to research and commercialize lead-free solder in consumer electronics.

Even though GEM quickly developed a technological solution and obtained the patent at an early stage for lead-free solder in China, commercialization proved very difficult. “Commercializing this technology needed a lot of investments. Besides, the business required a high occupation of capital, but the payment period for electronics manufacturers was quite long,” Xu said.

Making matters worse, the other two business partners decided to quit and pursue their academic careers instead. “I was really struggling and could barely afford the water and electricity fees for the operations, and even employees’ salary,” he recalled.

Despite those challenges, Xu persevered. Instead, he insisted on finding and developing a feasible recycling model. “I had to stick to my initial aspiration. There needs to be someone who practised those recycling innovations in manufacturing in order to solve the bottleneck of resources and the environment,” Xu said. “We were seeking light in the darkness.”

Turning points

A turning point came after Xu changed the business direction from lead-free solder manufacturing to battery recycling in 2003. “I had to solve two problems – first, to find a business pattern that can generate cash; secondly, to find venture capital to invest in the operations,” he said.

GEM started to recycle nickel and cobalt from battery wastes, which did not cost a lot to purchase, and then produced nickel and cobalt powder from them. The new opportunity was coupled with a policy tailwind when the Chinese government put forward the concept of the recycling economy in 2004, which helped GEM to obtain financial support from both government and venture capitalists. In that year, GEM got its first venture capital of five million yuan, which enabled the company to set up a new recycling and manufacturing plant in Hubei province, Xu recalled.

In 2009, China proposed the concept of low carbon emissions for the first time, which in turn put GEM in the spotlight in the capital market after it was listed in 2010. “Being listed was a watershed for our business. After GEM was listed, the company set up 16 recycling parks in China,” Xu said. “Before the company was listed, our sales revenue totalled 300 million yuan, but in 2019 it grew to more than 14 billion yuan.”

Economic supply chain

In the past ten years, GEM has set up a practical business model and seamless supply chain.

Technology innovations have been the focus for GEM since recycling of electronics requires quite advanced technologies, he noted, adding that the company has invested 2.5 billion yuan in research and development in the past five years.

“To process scraps in an efficient and environmental-friendly way, you need technologies to reduce the harm to the surrounding environment to a minimal level. In addition, you also need technologies to recycle the valuable resources from scrap and produce them into value-added products,” he said.

GEM has managed to identify a business and supply chain that is economically feasible and enables profit-making. The business and supply chain that GEM has established involves the solutions for two problems – namely, allocations of resources and energy conservation – which happen to be the essence of carbon neutralization, a mission that is prioritized and reiterated in China in recent years, according to Xu.

The company has built up an enclosed supply chain – including recycling nickel and cobalt resources from wasted batteries and producing NCM and NCA battery materials – a chain he described as the EV battery life value chain. “GEM has been prioritizing feeding on recycled resources instead of primary resources,” he said.

With the expansion of the company’s capacity to process scrapped batteries, the business is expected to cut its dependence on primary resources considerably in the following ten years. “At the current stage, the primary nickel and cobalt resources purchased by GEM accounts for 60% of the company’s total feedstock; but by 2025, the share of primary resources is expected to drop to 40%; and by 2030, GEM can mostly be independent of primary resources, realizing an enclosed supply chain for nickel and cobalt,” he said.

“We are working with global OEMs to recycle EVs. In the future, the EV battery supply chain will become a closed cycle,” he said.

GEM is setting up a large-scale processing hub for scrapped EVs and EV batteries in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, aiming to build up recycling in the Yangtze River Delta, one of the regions in China which has seen the quickest adoption of EVs, he said, adding that the hub is expected to operate in 2022. The hub has annual capacity to recycle 100,000 units of EVs and process 100,000 tonnes of EV batteries.

The company’s target is huge. “GEM aims to recycle 30% of global EV batteries by 2030, contributing to global carbon neutralization,” he said.

Xu said that after meeting the targets he set for the company by 2030, he would retire. “I would continue to do innovation research on recycling since I have my own national-level research and development center and post-doctorate training platform to cultivate related talents,” he said. “I am happy to return to research and contribute more innovations.”

“Recycling is unlimited, innovation is also unlimited,” he concluded.


T V Narendran: ‘Seeking a good balance between capital- and knowledge-intensive materials’

International steel strategy

With responsibilities across Tata Steel’s diverse international portfolio of steelmaking assets, CEO and managing director T V Narendran has a wide-ranging view of, and experience in, the global steel industry. He told Metal Market Magazine (June 2021) about the company’s strategy to thrive in a changing world for major steel producers.

“We will always be guided by the principle laid down by our founder Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata that the ‘community is not just another stakeholder but the very purpose of our existence.’ We faithfully put that into practice in all that we do,” he said.

“Consider this – we in India traditionally had consumption-led growth and so steel-use growth in most years was less than our GDP growth rate. But now with the focus being on infrastructure building, I am seeing more investment-led growth and that is more steel intensive. I shall, therefore, be expecting steel consumption growth to mirror GDP growth or higher than that. This was the case with China for most of the past two decades,” he noted.

He is also positive about global steel demand outlook in the context of governments from the US to China seeking to “spend their way out of trouble through big spending in infrastructure.”

The way that Tata Steel went on adjusting production, domestic sales and exports month by month during 2020-21, depending on the severity of the global Covid-19 pandemic, is an example of the agility of a Narendran-led management.

Narendran said that Tata Steel’s priority will at all times be to make maximum supplies of steel to the domestic market. “But in case there is demand fall here, we have the option to export,” he added.

Besides his group’s commitment to give preference to the domestic market, Narendran also has to contend with many import restrictions in the US and the EU. He also cannot ignore the eagle-eye that New Delhi is keeping on steel and cement prices because they have a major cost impact on infrastructure development. Tata Steel has a target to raise crude steel production in 2021-22 to 18.3 million tonnes through mill debottlenecking.

Global experience

Narendran is a distinguished mechanical engineering alumnus of the National Institute of Technology, Trichy, India, and he has an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. He is also an alumnus of the CEDEP-INSEAD institution for executive development in France.

He joined Tata Steel as an executive on completion of his MBA in 1988. Over the years he was given assignments that ranged from international and domestic marketing to the handling of long and flat products, as well as managing NatSteel in south-east Asia, which was the steel group’s first overseas acquisition, made in 2004.

Exposure to operations and marketing as well as a stint as principal executive officer to former managing director B Muthuraman prepared him to move to take up that role himself on November 1, 2013.

At 48, Narendran became the youngest managing director of Tata Steel, the crown jewel of India’s largest conglomerate which also has a major presence in IT, automotive and retail sectors. On taking up the leadership role, Narendran set out to make Tata Steel a “global cost leader” through digitization of processes and functions, enhancing employee productivity, and improvement in logistical and supply-chain efficiencies alongside capacity expansion. The goal is to be “future ready, structurally, financially and culturally.” At the same time, Narendran is negotiating the challenge of holding on to an Indian steel market share of around 20% by expanding capacity, both organically and through acquisitions.

Planning and initial work for a greenfield steel mill at Kalinganagar in Orissa’s Jajpur district began well before Narendran was made managing director. But his success in convincing the local community of the good that the steel plant would do in the region and speeding up project implementation enabled the commissioning of the 3 million tonne per year (tpy) mill in November 2015. Named the Kalinganagar plant, it is designed to produce hot rolled coil. It has a 4,300 cubic metre blast furnace and a 5.8 million tpy capacity sintering unit.

Beyond commissioning, Narendran ensured that the mill achieved its rated capacity in a short time and that work started on second-phase expansion that will make Kalinganagar an 8 million tpy unit. But the challenge that he has given himself is to finally expand it to 16 million tpy. The available land, infrastructure and logistics will enable the Kalinganagar plant to become the country’s largest single-site steel plant.

This project, together with the scope for significant capacity expansion at a mill in Orissa acquired in May 2018 and since renamed Tata Steel BSL (TS BSL), will give Tata Steel enough capacity for flat steel production in India. Given these circumstances, Narendran’s decision is to bid for future assets for long steel production.

His purchase of the steel business of Usha Martin Limited (UML) through a Tata Steel subsidiary, now called Tata Steel Long Products Limited (TS LPL), in 2019, and also his plans to bid for two public sector undertakings (PSUs) earmarked for privatization are seen as a strategy to secure a major profile in the long steel business. At Tata Steel’s over 10 million tpy Jamshedpur plant, long products have a share of 3 million tpy. TS LPL has crude steel capacity of 1 million tpy, but its finishing capacity is only 650,000 tpy. The subsidiary’s new management is ramping that up to 700,000 tpy through debottlenecking.

Narendran’s immediate priority is to give a push to a capacity expansion by 5 million tpy of the Kalinganagar plant, after “we took a pause last year because of the pandemic.” He is now poised to step up capital expenditure in view of a better market environment and a good outlook for steel prices. But he will not in any way “compromise on deleveraging the company.” During 2020-21, the net debt of Tata Steel was pared by close to $4 billion, and now he is targeting yearly debt reduction of $1 billion.

“We should be completing the Kalinganagar expansion by 2023-24,” said Narendran. But the 2.1 million tpy cold rolling mill and the 6 million tpy pellet plant “should be ready in the next financial year.” Other major features of the expansion are installation of a 5,800 cubic-metre blast furnace and raising the capacity of the hot strip mill to 6.5 million tonnes from 3 million tonnes. The expansion will enable Kalinganagar to make high-value-added cold rolled galvanized and annealed products, further strengthening Tata Steel’s presence in automotive, general engineering and white goods sectors.

Narendran is confident of making Tata Steel a 25 million tpy group by 2025. Beyond that, he will be working to take combined capacity at the company’s present three sites to 40 million tpy – Jamshedpur to 14 million tpy, Kalinganagar to 16 million tpy and Angul to 10 million tpy.

In parallel with building new capacity through organic and inorganic growth, Narendran is working to protect Tata Steel profits at all times. “We have a multi-fold approach to reducing our vulnerability to the steel cycle,” he said.

“First, we must remain among the most cost-efficient steelmakers in the world. This will ensure that we are the last group standing in a down-cycle and generate significant free cash flows during the up-cycle. Second, our focus will be on maintaining leadership in high-end segments such as automotive and oil and gas. Third, we will go on leveraging our brands and distribution and service center network to make deep inroads into B2C and B2 ECA (emerging corporate accounts representing mainly small and medium enterprises),” he explained.

Innovative outlook

Narendran also has a strategy in place to make the company “bigger and stronger” in downstream businesses such as tube, wire and tinplate. “As we go forward, we will be seeking a good balance between capital-intensive and knowledge-intensive materials,” he said. This explains Tata Steel’s growing investment in building a portfolio in graphene, fiber-reinforced polymers and ceramics. Narendran is targeting up to “30% of our revenues coming from services and solutions and new materials by the decade end.”

He believes that Tata Steel should leverage the innovative potential of start-ups by way of collaborations and partnerships and he says a new “platform called ‘Innoventure’ has been created to take the idea forward. Though it is still at an early stage, we have started working with start-ups in several areas. We identify a problem, invite start-ups to make a pitch offering a solution and then decide who to work with.” This trailblazing initiative has also become a model for some other corporations in India.

Narendran is keen to “embed circularity in Tata Steel business strategy.” He wants the commissioning of the company’s first 500,000 tpy steel recycling plant at Rohtak in Haryana in July 2020 to be followed up by building similar scrap-processing units in other parts of the country. The group already has rich recycling experience in south-east Asia. Narendran wants to use that for “shaping the way recycling is done in India.”

Narendran says the company is making “tremendous progress” both in Europe and India on the comprehensive digital transformation of steelmaking. “This digitization journey will not only take cost efficiency to another level through analytics and predictive maintenance, but it will also give our customers and suppliers a superior experience in working with us,” he said. “We are also banking on digitization for safety improvement, emissions reduction and quicker product development and project execution. We will remain engaged in leveraging technologies available today and which are in process of development,” he explained.


 Thembelani Gantsho: ‘There is lots of opportunity for mining to be a sunrise industry’

S. African mining champion

Kudumane Manganese Resources CEO Thembelani Gantsho is passionate about the opportunities for South African mining. He has first-hand experience of funding and operating a new mine and sees great potential for the nation’s mining industry (MMM July-August 2021 issue).

Since breaking ground in May 2012 and shipping its first ore in April of the following year, Kudumane Manganese Mine has established itself among South Africa’s larger manganese miners, producing 1.8-2 million tonnes of ore per year.

Operated by Kudumane Manganese Resources (KMR) in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, 80 km northwest of Kuruman, the 250 million tonne resource project includes an open pit mine, mobile crushing and screening plant and chemical analysis laboratory. It ships its ore from the ports of Durban and Port Elizabeth, counting China, India and Russia among its export markets.

Kudumane Manganese Resources is headed up by a former investment banker who swapped investment banking “glamour” for the grit of manganese ore, a darling of South African mining that imparts strength in steelmaking. A finance graduate of Cape Town University in the mid-noughties, CEO Thembelani Gantsho has a varied resume with stints at blue-chip banking and mining giants, having alternated between those sectors for a few years.

“One gets lured by the glamour of investment banking. And it is lovely to watch a mining project from the ground up and navigate the difficulties of funding,” he said.

After starting his banking career at Barclays-affiliated South African bank Absa Capital, Gantsho was eventually headhunted into Xstrata Alloys, a unit of mining giant Xstrata, which went on to merge with trader-miner Glencore in 2013. In his two years at Xstrata, he looked after platinum in a business development and strategy role, setting the foundations for a mining career. “That’s where I cut my teeth in mining. I enjoyed it; it was great fun,” he said.

He was later headhunted back to Absa and is candid about finding his way back again to resources and a longer-term career at a miner, working his way up from head of sales, marketing and logistics to the helm of the company. “I did it for a while and banking was not for me, I guess. Stroking egos to get business for the banks, I didn’t really enjoy it,” said Gantsho. “The mining industry has given me vast opportunities to travel the world, meet international players and network. It’s the opportunities that it has given me that have kept me stable in this company,” he said.

Gantsho readily reviews his career development, but it is clear that what really impassions him is discussing the wider manganese market and, even more so, the future of South Africa’s mining industry.

While his financial mind is always ticking, he balances miners’ funding considerations and profit margins against how they fit into South Africa’s wider strategy and future, which comes with other responsibilities. “Once you’re done, you need to leave a lasting legacy. We must leave an impact and make sure the community is better off. The benefit must not just be to the owners and the area must not be a barren land with the community in abject poverty,” he warned.

“KMR’s shareholders have set aside up to 10% of the economic benefit derived from the business for the benefit of our employees and local community. This goes beyond our current requirements but embraces the spirit of the latest Mining Charter,” he said.

South African mining

Alongside his commitment to corporate social responsibility, he recognizes a need for South African mining to attract fresh capital, having lost some of its appeal in recent years. He sees these priorities as inextricably linked and in line with the South African Mining Charter.

The proportion of investment in Africa that goes to South Africa has shrunk drastically in less than a generation, Gantsho pointed out. “Over a decade to a decade and a half ago, South Africa used to get the lion’s share of Africa’s mining capital investment. However, this has shrunk to below 5% based on Africa’s latest mining capital internment figures. This is both for new and prospecting projects,” Gantsho said.

“We have a sense that mining is a sunset industry, but there is lots of opportunity for it to be a sunrise industry. For mining to grow, you need to invest in prospecting. South Africa creates great opportunities, but capital has dried up,” he said. He blamed the capital drought on frequent changes to the regulatory framework, which continue to spook investors despite the country being relatively stable politically.

South Africa’s Mining Charter aims to radically improve black economic empowerment (BEE), community benefits and competitiveness under a number of transformation goals. It has been revamped twice, most recently in 2018, and although the government frames the charter’s evolution as progression and agility, many, including Gantsho, believe the changes have meant uncertainty for investors, even though the intention is right.

“It’s to do with regulatory uncertainty; constant changing of the rules. We are on our third iteration of the Mining Charter; even ministers have admitted some flaws and that creates uncertainty. The essence of the Charter is needed; it drives transformation and we need not be apologetic about that. But there needs to be stability in the rules,” he said.

The kind of fears some investors have around political instability in some emerging economies and potential loss of assets should not apply to South Africa, Gantsho added. “When capital is deployed, it’s protected. You’re not going to have assets taken by government,” he said.

AML’s support

Gantsho helped bring Kudumane into existence in partnership with Dr Mandla Gantsho, former chairman of Sasol, Kumba Iron ore and Impala Platinum and a relative of Thembelani’s, as well as Hirotaka Suzuki, founder of Hong Kong-headquartered Asia Minerals Limited (AML), the majority owner of KMR.

AML provides technical and marketing services for the mine, which also has a black economic empowerment (BEE) partner, Afris Capital. “I partnered with Dr Gantsho. He knew funding and I knew mining. We invested in Kudumane Manganese Resources and I moved up the ranks. Then we partnered with Mr Suzuki of AML and the relationship has gone from strength to strength,” he said.

“We found an asset we fell in love with. It came up and we got to understand it and its applications. Once you understand it, it’s easy to fall in love with it,” he said. “You get to see the whole value chain; opening the pit up, doing your first shipment. We had no Transnet allocation, we had to find solutions. I started with no experience in logistics, but we had a great team. We found operators ready to work with us and there was a big push to get Transnet onboard,” he said.

Securing Transnet allocation is always a huge step for South African miners, who have to share the country’s constrained capacity and often complain that they would export much greater volumes by rail if they could. Gantsho said achieving rail allocation was something he did through perseverance. “Being in their face all the time until you build those relationships,” he said.

Seeing the project through its early days has given Gantsho a great appreciation for AML’s support, which came at a time when the risk profile of junior miners was unattractive to many investors.

“In the beginning when the operation started, AML still came to the party and funded from their own cashflows and they’ve been rewarded. The funding was a challenge from the banks, but our partner stepped up and allowed us to do it without the debt from banks. Due to the risk profile at the time, mining was not sexy for banks unless you were a major,” Gantsho said.

“I applaud AML; they bet everything on developing KMR, having invested in excess of $150-million and that investment has paid off. It is thanks to Mr Suzuki’s visionary leadership that AML ventured into manganese mining and that’s how KMR came to be,” he added.

In handling Kudumane’s ore marketing, AML has not been among those who Gantsho believes are pushing volumes at any cost, he said, adding that a solid client base has been established without such practises. “I’ve enjoyed the partnership with AML and I appreciate the mentality of AML; not chasing volume and clients are with us whether the market is down or the market is up. They don’t look to play the market; even when the temptation is there, they exercise restraint. It’s not about what the market is doing it’s about what the business needs,” he said.

Gantsho believes his experiences rising in the company have also made him a better leader, better able to understand the challenges of his workforce. He is also more confident in letting them grow into their roles. “My experience in logistics allows me to understand the challenges the guys have, and I am able to advise and provide solutions. You see the mistakes you made at the beginning. I’m privileged enough to have had direct involvement with elements of the business and allow them to be their own boss and not stifle their decisions,” he concluded.

Satish Pai: ‘We’re a big Indian company, and we’re also now a big international company’

 Building global business

Satish Pai, chief executive officer of Hindalco Industries, built his own career in many roles around the globe and he is determined to see the major business he leads continue to thrive and grow in international markets (MMM September 2021).

Born in Bombay in 1961 into a middle-class family, Pai was the eldest of three sons. His father, who was an engineer, moved around with his job, which meant the family had also lived in Delhi. But it was Calcutta that had a huge impact on the young Pai. “I spent most of my formative years in Calcutta, which is a very cultural place with strong political roots. Art, politics, music were a big part of my life growing up and it has made me who I am,” he said.

Pai’s mother was the driving force behind his education, pushing him to study hard and instilling in him the drive to succeed from an early age. He had attended St Lawrence High School, a Jesuit school for boys in Calcutta. It was one of the few schools in a large Indian city with a big playground, supporting Pai’s passion for sport, which is something that has continued throughout his life. He was captain of his school soccer team, played cricket and studied karate, all the while managing to keep up with his “very academic” group of friends, he said.

After being accepted to the highly competitive Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) program, Pai opted to attend the IIT campus in Madras, Tamil Nadu. “I wanted to be independent and get away from home,” he said. Pai embarked on a five-year mechanical engineering degree.

Pai was once more the soccer captain there, and regularly played basketball, cricket and other sports. “When I look back as a manager now, the team-building nature of sport taught me a lot of managerial skills that are important in my career and life,” he said.

As he was about to enter his fourth year of the degree, Pai made a very savvy decision. His five-year degree was the last the IIT would run, and he was due to graduate at the same time as the inaugural four-year batch of students. “I got worried that if two groups graduated in the same year, the competition for jobs would be intense,” he said. So Pai and a couple of his friends decided to take extra credits during their vacation months. It meant that he was able to graduate after four-and-a-half years instead of five, putting him six months ahead of the rest of the pack. “I had respectable grades, a good sports record, and I was looking for the next step – a decent job,” he added.

As he graduated early in December 1984, global oil and gas services conglomerate Schlumberger arrived in Madras to recruit graduates who could start immediately. It was, Pai said, one of the most sought-after jobs in engineering, in part because it gave its employees the opportunity to travel the world. He applied successfully. “That’s when things changed for me – it could have been very different,” he added.

Success at Schlumberger

Pai succeeded in multiple roles at Schlumberger, taking up many international postings.

His first trip outside India took him to Taiwan, before a move to training school in Brunei; after finishing the program, he was sent to Phitsanulok, Thailand, where he met his future wife, Wanvimon.

During a period of depressed oil prices in the mid-1980s, he did a short stint back in Brunei, before transferring to India and spending the next couple of years working on remote oil rigs across the country. His bosses from that period of his career were real mentors and “helped make me who I am as a manager today.” One of them recommended he become a petrophysicist, which was a break that Pai welcomed, taking him off the oil rigs and moving him to Paris to study at log analysis training school. It meant Pai could settle in one spot for a while, so he asked Wanvimon to marry him. After Paris, the newlyweds moved to Oman, where Pai worked as a log analyst, a multi-disciplined position that put his new training to full use.

After a while, Pai was on the move again when he was offered a role in human resources and moved to Houston, Texas for a job in a software company the group had recently acquired. “Today I tell people it was the most impactful job I’ve done in my career,” Pai said.

Now in the US, he worked for three years with Rex Ross, whose company GeoQuest had been acquired by Schlumberger. He credits Ross for teaching him the basics of recruiting, training and compensation, skills that he discovered were a rite of passage within Schlumberger if you had management aspirations.

After his time in HR, Pai’s family moved in 1996 to Russia, where he was in charge of the group’s software division for Russia and the CIS. “I travelled all over Russia and to surrounding countries: Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus... Russia was a lot like Calcutta at the time – some of the best mechanical engineering brains in the world and surrounded by art and culture,” he reminisced.

His posting after that was in Aberdeen, Scotland, where his new role was to run Schlumberger’s software for the UK, but Pai had only been there for a year before his career changed again. “I was noticed by management,” he said.
It was 1999-2000, the dot. com boom, and the UK government wanted to create an online portal to sell oil and gas assets online. Pai led the team to bid for that business and created within Schlumberger an acquisition and development services company called IndigoPool. “I went to Houston, started a little company for the group, began to do presentations on Wall Street in New York, and suddenly had the spotlight on me. As IndigoPool president, the Schlumberger CEO got to know me, and then my career took off,” he added.

Further senior management roles followed over the next decade, eventually taking Pai back to Paris. He ran Schlumberger Information Solutions, became the group’s Vice President Technology, then President Europe, Caspian and Africa, Vice President Worldwide Operations and finally Executive Vice President Worldwide Operations. The only role left was, it seemed, Schlumberger CEO.

But it wasn’t meant to be. “I was in the running for the CEO position. There were two of us; the company chose the other person. I was 50 years old, didn’t get the top role, and so had to decide, what do I do? I was too old to rock and roll but too young to die!” he smiled. “I stayed for two years to help support the new CEO and meanwhile started to look for new opportunities,” he said.

Hindalco called

Pai got a call from the HR director at Hindalco, part of Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla Group. The pair met, and Pai was asked if he was interested in the role of Hindalco CEO. It would mean a move to Mumbai, India. He returned to his home country and started the process of learning an industry that was new to him: metals and mining.

Pai was part of a Hindalco CEO succession plan that began in August 2013, when he became head of the company’s aluminium business. “When I joined Hindalco, all the problems that can happen, happened straight away,” he said. Aside from falling LME aluminium prices, difficulties included the decision by India’s Supreme Court to scrap all but four of the 218 coal mining licenses awarded from 1993-2010 after finding they had been awarded illegally, temporarily removing the energy sources for the company’s smelters.

Hindalco had meanwhile invested $5 billion in setting up the Mahan and Aditya aluminium smelters plus the Utkal alumina refinery, but the assets still were not up and running when Pai joined. And the company had yet to fully integrate Atlanta, US-based Novelis Inc, a leading aluminium rolled products and aluminium can recycling company that Hindalco had acquired in 2007.

“I was learning at the deep end of the pool,” Pai said. But learn he did: first aluminium, then copper, which he now also headed after becoming deputy CEO in February 2014.

Fortunately, the copper business was doing well; until 2016, three-month prices remained above $6,000 per tonne, before going through some tougher times as aluminium prices started their recovery. “I quickly realized a diversified portfolio allows you to ride out the cycles,” Pai noted.

Now CEO, he was ready to make his mark and proposed a strategy to Aditya Birla chairman, Kumar Mangalam Birla. “I told the chairman that I was going to make Hindalco and Novelis combined into one of the best international aluminium companies,” he said. “I wanted to be on the same stage as the other industry leaders and be respected for being the same level as them, not for being a good Indian aluminium and copper company,” he added. Pai set about ensuring Hindalco’s processes, systems, working culture, safety and sustainability were operating at the top level. He also worked on a corporate cultural transformation, creating a management framework and bringing in new, young talent from outside the firm.

“That’s the journey you’re seeing at Hindalco now – we’re now visible on the international stage, and people know what we stand for,” he said. “We’re a big Indian company, and we’re also now a big international company,” he added.

Pai was a key architect of the deal to buy rolled aluminium products company Aleris. “I really pushed it,” he said. “I suggested to the chairman that rather than bring capital back to India, we should invest more in Novelis. The opportunities were so huge,” he added. Hindalco now owns a downstream aluminium company producing four million tonnes of rolled products annually. The company is focused on growing the combined group’s downstream business in India and deleveraging its balance sheet, supported by strong cash flows across the divisions.

Pai’s own experiences have made him push his employees to move around the company’s operations when possible, citing benefits such as flexibility, compromise, and cultural awareness.
Having encouraged his children to pursue professions that made them happy, Pai said he would tell a new starter in the metals and mining world to “build a career in metals that have a future.” “It’s very clear now that there are certain categories of metals that are going to have a long life, so get into those metals and pick a company that really believes in ESG [environmental, social and governance] because that company will have all the right characteristics to give you a good career,” he said.



Donna Vareha-Walsh: ‘I wake up every day to keep our company competitive’

Passion for minor metals

As the director of sales, global supply chain, and trade compliance at Indium Corporation, as well as Chair of the Minor Metals Trade Association, Donna Vareha-Walsh has a global view of markets for minor metals.

Vareha-Walsh found her passion for the metal industry almost by chance when working as a business consultant in 2001 with Jefferson Wells International, shortly after spending nearly three years as an international tax consultant for Ernst and Young. “Back then, I was working with clients that were dealing with international businesses, helping them understand and reduce their overall total landed costs and supply chain and I worked with one particular customer that was dealing with challenges created by the ‘Dot.com’ crash and the move of manufacturing to Asia,’’ she said. “They had global operations and we needed to develop a strategy for them, given the challenges that low-cost Asian plants and raw materials presented,” she explained (MMM October 2021).

The customer for that project was Kennametal – the company she would start working for in September 2001. “This is how I joined the metals industry; I started as a Business Unit Controller and stepped out of finance and entered into the other side – the sales and operations side of it – after three years with the company,” she explained.

“That was the biggest decision of my life.” She hesitated at first because she was already good and confident in her finance skills and the other side was uncertain, but any fears she may have held about making the move did not change her choice. “I believe everything that happens will lead you to another road or provide you with experiences that make you successful later.”

Indium Corporation is a US-based company that provides advanced electronics assembly materials, and trades high-purity metals as well as compound products made from the minor metals indium, gallium, and germanium, where Vareha-Walsh has responsibility for the company’s supply chain, international trade, and logistics, while also leading global sales for the metals, the metal compounds, and the recycling business unit.

Dealing with ups and downs

Dealing with the market impacts of the global Covid-19 pandemic has been one of a number of major metal market disruptions Vareha-Walsh has successfully worked through during her career. What tips does she have for responding to them?

“I think from a supply-chain perspective on managing metals, the one thing that you always want to do is position yourself so that you don’t have 100% where you believe your forecast and demand is, but you make decisions based on a variety of factors,” she said. “Each metal is different, but you really need to assess each one and determine what supply chain strategy you should have. You need to ask yourself a series of questions: How much should we have on a long-term contract? Where does the material come from? How does the supply-chain situation look going forward? Are we accessing all the different elements that could trigger either the lack of material or a significant increase, or vice versa?”

“Decide on a sourcing strategy which could be 75% on commitment to 25% on the spot market, or some version of that,” she said, explaining that different percentages depend on how you use or sell or the customer pricing strategies.

Vareha-Walsh has learned how to set such ratios over the years. She has extensive experience in cross-commodities markets, including APT, tantalum, and cobalt during a decade with Kennametal, followed by three years with nickel, chrome, moly, niobium, etc. with specialty alloys producer Carpenter Technology Corporation (as their director of global procurement). Since joining Indium Corporation in 2015, she has focused on tin, silver, and gold, and the minor metals indium, gallium and germanium. She has held different positions in the company and still sees great opportunities for the business to grow further. “I wake up every day to keep our company competitive,” she said.

Her background in international tax and finance has been a big asset in working in the metals industry, as have her studies in accounting, finance, and business. She holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Duquesne University, an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh, and was also a certified public accountant.

She relishes the variety of responsibilities that her career in metals has provided. “The biggest highlights of my career are having had the opportunity to work in various functional capacities... being able to work in finance, in sales, and operations,” she said.

MMTA Chair

Alongside her demanding role with Indium Corporation, in 2020, Vareha-Walsh was elected Chair of the Minor Metals Trade Association (MMTA), a not-for-profit organization that comprises companies actively involved in all aspects of the international minor metals sector.

Vareha-Walsh is the first female and first American Chair of the MMTA, but when that was mentioned in discussion, she stressed instead the importance of hard work to make career progress rather than focusing on her gender. “Yes, I am the first woman in this position, but I am not sure why there have not been others. Throughout my career, I have never felt that being a woman has put me at a disadvantage,” she said. “I think that anyone that works hard and makes sure that they understand their job can excel at it. If you work hard, the opportunities will follow.”

She has big plans for the MMTA. “We want to make sure that we keep and grow the spirit of the MMTA,” she said. Bringing more industrial players into the association and increasing the membership is one of her priorities. “I think that we have a lot of opportunity to further penetrate the overall minor metal industry from mine to consumer,” she explained.

Vareha-Walsh, an enthusiastic presenter, is a well-known face to be found at many conferences or business meetings. “I was in Asia, either China, Japan or Korea, typically every two-to-three months, either for a conference or [to see] a customer, a supplier, or one of my team members,” she recalled. When asked if the minor metals trade’s lack of face-to-face meetings as a consequence of the restrictions placed on travel by the global pandemic has impacted business, Vareha-Walsh responded, “It is not the same; it is a little bit different. With some suppliers [the situation] has not changed, but each country is different. In Asia, that [meeting-in-person] piece of the business has been lost. In the US, we don’t meet for a coffee or a drink as often.”

New applications

New applications for minor metals are driving changes in their markets. In particular, Vareha-Walsh sees potential from the Internet of Things, 5G, and, especially in the US, automation. In these areas, germanium, used in infrared lenses, and gallium, a key component for the development of 5G networks through gallium arsenide and gallium nitride semiconductors, have great prospects in the years ahead, she said.

Other factors, such as recycling, are important too, as the circular economy has created a shift in the use of metals from a production- to-disposal mentality towards re-use and recycling. Many minor metals are well-suited to this shift in economic model because they have recycling loops of high economic value. “There’s a lot of focus going forward on the end-of-life of electronics that are absorbing all these metals and then bringing them back into the supply chain through recycling,” said Vareha-Walsh.

Leading a team

Sharing her knowledge about the intricacies of the markets with her team so that they can apply it in their own way is one of VarehaWalsh’s biggest passions. “I really like developing people from all over the world,” she said with a smile on her face. “They bring a lot.”

“I have a super team; very dedicated professionals that work hard. It is my team that allows me to be successful.” The team she leads is global, with its members based in China, South Korea, Malaysia, Europe, and the US.

“I’m used to working as a global team – 7am meetings work well to have everyone on board,” she said. Her day starts with Asia, then Europe and North America, to focus on Asia again after 7pm. She is always ‘on call’ if anything urgent needs to be addressed, she said, but she also knows how to delegate as a matter of trust and as a form of empowerment.

“I like to make sure that my teams are empowered; I provide the strategy direction and objectives, and they decide the course,’’ she said. She and the team pursue every avenue in which they see an opportunity, she said. While she works for a big company, its culture is entrepreneurial.

For her, the role of a mentor in every stage of career development has been greatly valued. Her mentor at the global tungsten company she worked for, Gary Weissman, supported her to achieve many of her goals and take the leap out of finance into sales and operations. “It is important that a mentor is judgement-free; that you can ask questions about any topics you are trying to deal with; and that they’re someone that you can talk to openly and freely,” she explained.

She wants to do the same for her colleagues. “Even as a sales director, I can share with them experiences from procurement that can be useful when they’re coming to sell a product.” Her advice to people new in the industry is to learn as much as they can, to understand how the pricing is set, and understand the players in the markets and the import/export environment. “Looking for opportunities, looking on how to make your company competitive. Never stop learning,” she concluded.

 Kathleen Quirk: ‘We have an exciting effort around culture, innovation, artificial intelligence, embracing an agile way of working’

 World-class copper mining

Kathleen Quirk, the president and CFO of US copper producer Freeport-McMoRan, stresses teamwork and the strength of her colleagues (MMM November-December 2021). She attended Catholic schools throughout elementary and high school, where she was very active in team sports, including swimming, softball, volleyball and basketball. “I really feel it helped me in growing and in my career in terms of working with people in a team. I wasn’t the best athlete on the team, but I really enjoyed the teamwork and interaction,” she said.

“I learned about compassion for others from my mother. This has carried through in my life and during my career,” she added. She was also involved in student council activities throughout school, which taught her leadership skills. It is clear that Quirk, a gregarious and outgoing student, enjoyed having fun. “I was a good student, not the best. I enjoyed the full program of activities at school, not just academics, but everything it had to offer,” she added.

When the time for university came, her father – then the CEO of an engineering firm in New Orleans – gave her some advice: pursue accounting. “He was an engineer, which I never considered as a career. My dad encouraged me to look at accounting; he felt it would provide a good base level of education that would allow me to do other things beyond accounting,” she recalled.

She attended Louisiana State University (LSU), about an hour away from New Orleans in Baton Rouge, the flagship college in the state. It was a much larger educational venue than she was used to and brought her into contact with people from all over Louisiana as well as the country. “I loved LSU. I had several friends from New Orleans, but one of the neat things was I made a lot of new friends that are lifelong to this day,” Quirk noted.

Many of those friends were members of her Delta, Delta, Delta sorority, which was, she said, not just a social experience but a development opportunity in leadership. “I got involved in the organization and leadership of the sorority and really learned about working with people, challenges and budgets,” she said. With limited fellow accounting students in her sorority, Quirk also established strong friendships with others in the accounting program with whom she studied several times a week. “They were incredible in terms of their knowledge of accounting; it was really good discipline for me and really helped,” she added.

When her graduation came around, Quirk upped sticks and moved to Dallas, Texas. After interviewing with Mobil Oil, she started working in the tax department at the company’s Dallas accounting center. It was interesting work; Quirk got exposure to the natural resources industry, particularly Mobil’s international projects. But after a few years she began to look for a role in a corporate headquarters, with the intention of better understanding a company’s overall strategy. She joined Freeport’s tax department at the company’s headquarters in New Orleans.

Freeport

It was 1989, the year after Freeport-McMoRan had discovered the Grasberg copper and gold deposit in Indonesia, a game-changing asset for the company, which was soon to be one of the industry’s greatest mines.

The company had a very entrepreneurial style that she instantly enjoyed, Quirk said. The role was demanding, but fun, and at an active time for the company, which owned a number of publicly traded companies, including sulfur, fertilizers, gold, and oil and gas, as well as a publicly listed holding company.

Coincidentally, in the same year current Chairman and CEO Richard Adkerson joined Freeport, along with Chip Goodyear, the future head of BHP Billiton. “Richard and Chip initially didn’t have specific well-defined roles, but they were creating a lot of energy and velocity in restructuring the company. I thought at the time I needed to try to get into their group,” Quirk recalled. There was an opening in investor relations, dealing with its interface with the tax department; Quirk moved into the role and ran the group. It was here that her interest in the institutional aspect of the business blossomed, she said.

From there, she had an opportunity to move into finance and business development for Freeport’s fertilizer business, run by Goodyear; Adkerson was in charge of oil and gas, plus the development of Grasberg. Their team worked together, with plenty of interaction. Richard and Chip were true partners and close personal friends, she said. It was a dynamic environment. “I worked directly for Chip for several years. I’ve been so fortunate to have worked with people who are so good at what they do. I was a sponge, learning as much as I could from these great people,” Quirk said.

In 1992, Goodyear became Chief Development Officer of Freeport while Adkerson became its CFO. The mining business was developing the Gresik smelter in Indonesia, an “enormous negotiation,” as well as forming strategic partnerships to raise capital to fund Grasberg. Rio Tinto made an investment and became a partner in Grasberg in 1995.

After Goodyear’s departure from Freeport, Quirk moved into the Treasury group and started working more closely with Adkerson in a partnership that flourished. By the time she became Treasurer in 2000, Freeport’s focus was on mining at Grasberg, with a small oil and gas company.

Phelps Dodge deal

By 2003, as China emerged as a major developing economy, copper prices started to move higher. At year-end, Adkerson became CEO and Quirk stepped into the CFO role. The two of them started thinking strategically about the future of the company.

“We thought during that time that one of the larger miners would buy us, given the Grasberg asset and the simplified company structure, which had been cleaned up,” she recalled. “We considered a number of things, but nothing panned out, so we started thinking strategically about Freeport as a continuing standalone company,” she said.

In an unexpected twist of fate, the opportunity to buy the larger miner Phelps Dodge came along, which was the largest deal ever done in mining at that point and one that Quirk said transformed Freeport into a more globally diversified company.

Following a successful integration and with copper prices buoyant, business was good until the global financial crisis of 2008, and a collapse in copper prices. “We had to make really hard decisions and develop business plans allowing us to cut costs and capital that all the teams would embrace. We’ve had to do it on a couple more occasions since then, and while they have been a little different each time, the theme is the same in that people came together, rolled up their sleeves and figured out what to do,” Quirk recalled.

By 2011 Freeport was debt free, copper prices were at record highs, and the company’s share price was riding high. But things changed when Freeport started to run into contract issues in Indonesia and an ill-fated investment in oil and gas – driven by the board at the time and not by management – the following year, which created significant debt.

Quirk and Adkerson subsequently worked through a company restructuring and managed lengthy negotiations with the Indonesian government, which culminated in agreement in December 2018. “What I’ve learned in my career at Freeport is that finding common ground with whomever you’re dealing with is very important. We needed to defend our rights and contract but listening and thinking about the long-term was also important. Everybody needed to come to the table and figure it out,” she said.

“By 2018, we’d already invested billions of dollars in Grasberg. Richard always says, making the multi-year investment to develop the underground before settling the contract issue was the biggest risk he has undertaken as CEO. If we hadn’t gotten the right structure with the government, the consequences would have been negative for all stakeholders,” she said.

“But it’s all worked out really well; it’s a great asset for Freeport, the Indonesian government, the workers, the communities and the industry too,” Quirk added.

Mentors and mining

Quirk has had several mentors throughout her career, including senior executives like Goodyear, former Freeport Chairman Jim Bob Moffett, as well as Adkerson. At the same time, she has learned much from colleagues in the teams she has worked alongside over the years, including now.

“I learn not just from people I worked for, but also from the people I work with. Everybody is really talented – I really try to listen to what people have to say, because it’s really hard to make decisions unless you put yourself in other people’s shoes,” Quirk said.

Quirk noted that after being driven by the technical side for so long, non-technical skills have become critical in the mining sector. “When I was growing up, I don’t think I even knew what mining was. I don’t think people have the appreciation for the types of disciplines that add value in our industry – it’s such a broad-ranging sector,” she said. “We need to do a better job to educate people, so they don’t think they need to get into a large haulage truck to do their job at Freeport. That’s an important part of what we do, of course, but we have a lot of different roles that cover a whole gambit of opportunities, so education around that is going to give us a broader pool of people,” she added.

For Quirk, this includes creating a more inclusive industry, she said, adding: “Having an inclusive environment where people have a voice and can contribute, to me that goes a long way.”

In March 2022, Maree Robertson will become senior vice president and CFO of Freeport-McMoRan, reporting to Quirk, who was appointed president in February 2021 in addition to her present role as CFO. Robertson served as CFO, Energy and Minerals of Rio Tinto Group since 2019.

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