Dangerous Mines: Saving Lives through Leadership

Subscribe on iTunes  Follow on Libsyn

Subscribe on iTunes  Follow on Libsyn

Dangerous Mines: Saving Lives through Leadership

Brian Kenny: In the mines of South Africa, work-related accidents claim the life of one worker every 44 hours. One company, Anglo American, lost 46 miners a year between 2002 and 2006.

Today, we’ll hear from Professor Gautam Mukunda about his case entitled Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American. I’m Brian Kenny and you’re listening to Cold Call.

Professor Mukunda teaches leadership and organizational behavior in the MBA program at Harvard Business School, a course that focuses on how managers become effective leaders by addressing the human side of the enterprise. That’s a topic that relates directly to the case that we’re going to discuss today. Gautam, welcome.

Gautam Mukunda: Thank you, Brian. It’s great to be here.

BK: I wonder if you could start by setting up the case for us. Tell us how this case begins.

GM: The case begins with Cynthia Carroll in a helicopter on the landing pad in South Africa. She’s about to take off as she goes to visit the next Anglo American facility. She’s fairly new in her term as CEO of Anglo American, just been there a few months. She was hired not just from outside of the company, but from outside the industry. Her previous career was actually in aluminum. When thinking about Anglo American, I tell the students: don’t think about it like a company, think about it like the Marine Corps. That’s about the scale that we’re talking about, 150,000 people operating in about 40 countries around the world.

She begins her term as CEO by trying to visit every one of these facilities and she’s going around from place to place learning about the company, getting a frontline feel for it. Then, just as the helicopter is about to take off, the head of Anglo Platinum (their platinum mining subsidiary) comes out and pulls the door open and says, “Cynthia, I’m sorry. I have really bad news.” It turns out that a miner had been killed in a mining accident in the Rustenburg Platinum Mine, which is the largest platinum mine in the world. This is the fifth miner who has been killed in an accident in this mine just in the few months that Cynthia has been the CEO.

BK: And she’s got to deal with this.

GM: She’s got to decide what to do.

BK: We’re going to get back to that specific incident in that mine a little bit later. But can you just start by telling us why you decided to write this case?

GM: Cynthia tells her story and what she did at this company and it is just breathtaking, one of these things that makes you feel enormously proud to be part of Harvard Business School; that one of our graduates could have this kind of a transformative impact on not just a company but an industry. I wanted to teach the story to my students.

BK: So Cynthia was a really unusual pick for Anglo American for this role. Tell us why.

GM: Absolutely. That’s another reason why I wanted to study her: because my research and my book are about these sorts of unconventional leaders who come in and have enormous impacts on the organization that they lead. Cynthia was unconventional in every way you could possibly imagine. Anglo American had never been led by an outsider. It had never been led by a non-South African. And no significant company in the history of the mining industry had ever been led by a woman. Cynthia Carroll was an American, outsider, non-miner. So this is an extraordinary combination of differences for her to deal with.

BK: What kind of a leader is she?

GM: Decisive. The first thing you notice about Cynthia is that she’s introspective, but she does not doubt herself ever. In fact, when she came to our class the students pressed her on this because they just couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe that anyone would be this certain under these stakes. They asked her again and again, “did you ever doubt the choices you made?” Her response was always, “Never, not once.” She said, “You make a choice and you move forward. You don’t look back.” So the first thing is decisive. The second is deeply analytical. This is someone who wants to get her fingers dirty understanding how the mines actually work. The third, equally tied to that, is someone who cares deeply about the people she works with. You can see that the choices she made were absolutely designed to benefit all the stakeholders of Anglo American and deliver value to shareholders, deliver value to every part of the company. But they were also deeply institutional, deeply moral choices. She said at one point to the board, “I will resign before I lead a company that kills this many people every year.” This is not a negotiable situation for her. It’s important to realize that the company she’s taking over was in no way the bad guy. Anglo American had probably the best safety record of any mining company in Africa. Anglo American was the first company to offer free HIV tests to its workers. It was the first company to offer free antiretroviral drugs to its workers. This is a company with a history of actually trying to do well by the people who work for it, and yet it was losing more than 40 people a year in mining accidents.

BK: Can you talk a little bit about the politics and the history that she had to confront as part of this?

GM: This is—I say without qualification or reservation—the most complex environment I have ever studied for any corporate leader to have operated in. Every issue you could think about that a leader might deal with—many leaders dealing with any of them in isolation would say it was difficult. She had to deal with them all at once. So you have a workforce where 70% of it is illiterate, speaking nine different languages. It’s entirely possible that none of those nine languages are English or Afrikaans, which are the languages spoken by the supervisors of the company. You have the legacy of apartheid, which is still deeply felt of course in South Africa. You have political tensions where the mining industry has a history of essentially using apartheid to generate cheap labor to generate profits in South Africa that the government of South Africa understandably resents, and so they are not favorably disposed towards mining companies. She came in, in fact, when Anglo American had just moved its corporate headquarters from South Africa to London and was now registered in the London Stock Exchange. So that had caused problems in South Africa, even before she joined.

BK: In addition to that, this is a very, very dangerous work environment. In the Rustenburg Mine in particular they were doing the most dangerous kind of mining.

GM: That’s right. To quote a line from the case, “this is deep, underground, hard rock mining.” This is the most dangerous thing people do. That is not an exaggeration. Before I wrote this case, I actually went a mile underground to visit the mine to get a feel for what it was like.

BK: That must have been interesting.

GM: It was extraordinary. Rustenburg is platinum mining through solid rock a mile underground. So don’t think of it like a hole in the ground. Think of it like a city of 30,000 people done in tunnels underneath one mile of solid rock. That’s the experience you have to have in mind if you want to imagine what it’s like to be in Rustenburg. Everything you mine you have to haul vertically up a mile, just to get the ore, before you can refine it. And just to make things even more fun, this is a 12-hour shift you’re working here. So if you’re claustrophobic, you don’t want this experience. We’re carrying about 40 pounds of equipment. It’s hot. It’s wet. It’s loud. And because anything you mine you have to haul up a mile to the surface, it’s really important that you only mine the platinum-bearing rock. You can’t mine other stuff because it’s too expensive.

BK: You cite in the case that it takes 280 tons of platinum to make one ring.

GM: Yes, 280 tons of ore to make one ring. That’s right. Taken from a mile underground. So in this case the reef at Rustenburg is only one meter thick. It’s about the height of a desk. You spend those 12 hours (and I did this with a steam drill) on your hands and knees with your head touching the ceiling drilling in a one-meter-high space. That’s what a shift in the mines is like. I don’t think there’s another environment like it on earth.

BK: And you do something unique when you teach the class. Can you describe how you start the class off?

GM: I really wanted [my students] to get the feel for what it’s like. It’s impossible to do that in any realistic sense. But what I did do is the first time somebody talks about what it’s like to be in a mine—almost always someone in a section has been in a mine. I say, okay, but let’s stop for a second. Let’s process that. Everybody get under your desk. I have every single one of them get under the desk and sit under the desk. And believe me, they want out. They want to be under and then say, “that was great” and bounce back out. And I have to say, “no, I want you to stay under the desk for a minute or so while I talk and just imagine what it’s like being in this posture for 12 hours while you’re doing just incredibly heavy physical labor that entire stretch of time.” That’s being in the mines.

BK: How do students react to the case?

GM: There’s an interesting mixture. Some people are horrified, who just find the idea that anyone would die in a mining accident in a company just to be unacceptable. In fact, Cynthia herself had said that her goal as the CEO of Anglo American was zero harm. They should never have a single person hurt. Then there are some students who think every one of these jobs has 100 people applying for it, which is true. There are people who compete desperately to get one of these mining jobs because, given the unemployment rate for people in South Africa, it’s a—not everyone may think of it as a good job, but they often do.

BK: So the fundamental question that the protagonist (Cynthia, in this case) faces is: does she decrease production? Does she shut down operations? What is she trying to address ultimately?

GM: She has to decide that. In fact, it is a wonderful moment because you are the CEO of one of the world’s most important companies. This is as high as the stakes ever get. We’re talking 600,000 people might be dependent on what decision she makes. What is the most important thing for her? Should they keep producing? Rustenburg is not a trivial thing. Rustenburg is the largest platinum mine in the world. Everything she does has global impact. What is the most important thing: making sure that no one else dies and doing whatever you have to do to stop that? Does that mean just shutting down the mine, with the knowledge that in the history of South Africa no company has ever voluntarily shut down a mine for safety reasons? Is the most important thing continuing with operations in what is, after all, a commodity business? Mining is the quintessential commodity business. It’s not like Anglo American has market power. If they don’t sell platinum, somebody else will. They have customers who need that platinum. We think of platinum as jewelry but platinum is actually most important for catalytic converters. So there’s a profound industrial need to keep producing this quantity. You have shareholders. In fact, many Anglo American shareholders are pensioners in South Africa who depend on this for their retirement. So all of the stakes here are about as high as you can get and she has to decide pretty much at that moment what her hallmark is going to be as the CEO of Anglo American. What is her legacy going to be and how is she going to execute on that?

BK: I won’t ask you to tell us how that ends in class. But if there’s a rising manager out there who is in a similar situation where they’re working in an environment where people’s safety is at stake and they’re concerned, they’re aware of things, and they need to manage that, is there some take-away from this case that they should have?

GM: The most important thing is simple. Never ever underrate what you as a leader can do. Never underestimate the capacity for change that you might have. If Cynthia had said the day she took over the job, “this is what I’m going to achieve, this is what I’m going to do while I’m the CEO of Anglo American,” I think anyone else would have said that’s impossible. Can’t be done. No one can do this in the South African environment. And that didn’t stop her. I think you can know that it shouldn’t stop you either. This is a leader who had in her hand hundreds of lives and could decide what happened to them. When I used to say nobody dies in business? I was wrong. People do. And you can change that if you decide to.

BK: Professor Gautam Mukunda, thank you for joining us today.

GM: Thank you, Brian.

BK: You can find the Cynthia Carroll case online at HBR.org and you can find other episodes of Cold Call on iTunes and Sound Cloud or follow us on Twitter at our hashtag #HBSColdCall.

-END OF PODCAST-

 Read more

Dangerous Mines: Saving Lives through Leadership

Brian Kenny: In the mines of South Africa, work-related accidents claim the life of one worker every 44 hours. One company, Anglo American, lost 46 miners a year between 2002 and 2006.

Today, we’ll hear from Professor Gautam Mukunda about his case entitled Cynthia Carroll at Anglo American. I’m Brian Kenny and you’re listening to Cold Call.

Professor Mukunda teaches leadership and organizational behavior in the MBA program at Harvard Business School, a course that focuses on how managers become effective leaders by addressing the human side of the enterprise. That’s a topic that relates directly to the case that we’re going to discuss today. Gautam, welcome.

Gautam Mukunda: Thank you, Brian. It’s great to be here.

BK: I wonder if you could start by setting up the case for us. Tell us how this case begins.

GM: The case begins with Cynthia Carroll in a helicopter on the landing pad in South Africa. She’s about to take off as she goes to visit the next Anglo American facility. She’s fairly new in her term as CEO of Anglo American, just been there a few months. She was hired not just from outside of the company, but from outside the industry. Her previous career was actually in aluminum. When thinking about Anglo American, I tell the students: don’t think about it like a company, think about it like the Marine Corps. That’s about the scale that we’re talking about, 150,000 people operating in about 40 countries around the world.

She begins her term as CEO by trying to visit every one of these facilities and she’s going around from place to place learning about the company, getting a frontline feel for it. Then, just as the helicopter is about to take off, the head of Anglo Platinum (their platinum mining subsidiary) comes out and pulls the door open and says, “Cynthia, I’m sorry. I have really bad news.” It turns out that a miner had been killed in a mining accident in the Rustenburg Platinum Mine, which is the largest platinum mine in the world. This is the fifth miner who has been killed in an accident in this mine just in the few months that Cynthia has been the CEO.

BK: And she’s got to deal with this.

GM: She’s got to decide what to do.

BK: We’re going to get back to that specific incident in that mine a little bit later. But can you just start by telling us why you decided to write this case?

GM: Cynthia tells her story and what she did at this company and it is just breathtaking, one of these things that makes you feel enormously proud to be part of Harvard Business School; that one of our graduates could have this kind of a transformative impact on not just a company but an industry. I wanted to teach the story to my students.

BK: So Cynthia was a really unusual pick for Anglo American for this role. Tell us why.

GM: Absolutely. That’s another reason why I wanted to study her: because my research and my book are about these sorts of unconventional leaders who come in and have enormous impacts on the organization that they lead. Cynthia was unconventional in every way you could possibly imagine. Anglo American had never been led by an outsider. It had never been led by a non-South African. And no significant company in the history of the mining industry had ever been led by a woman. Cynthia Carroll was an American, outsider, non-miner. So this is an extraordinary combination of differences for her to deal with.

BK: What kind of a leader is she?

GM: Decisive. The first thing you notice about Cynthia is that she’s introspective, but she does not doubt herself ever. In fact, when she came to our class the students pressed her on this because they just couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe that anyone would be this certain under these stakes. They asked her again and again, “did you ever doubt the choices you made?” Her response was always, “Never, not once.” She said, “You make a choice and you move forward. You don’t look back.” So the first thing is decisive. The second is deeply analytical. This is someone who wants to get her fingers dirty understanding how the mines actually work. The third, equally tied to that, is someone who cares deeply about the people she works with. You can see that the choices she made were absolutely designed to benefit all the stakeholders of Anglo American and deliver value to shareholders, deliver value to every part of the company. But they were also deeply institutional, deeply moral choices. She said at one point to the board, “I will resign before I lead a company that kills this many people every year.” This is not a negotiable situation for her. It’s important to realize that the company she’s taking over was in no way the bad guy. Anglo American had probably the best safety record of any mining company in Africa. Anglo American was the first company to offer free HIV tests to its workers. It was the first company to offer free antiretroviral drugs to its workers. This is a company with a history of actually trying to do well by the people who work for it, and yet it was losing more than 40 people a year in mining accidents.

BK: Can you talk a little bit about the politics and the history that she had to confront as part of this?

GM: This is—I say without qualification or reservation—the most complex environment I have ever studied for any corporate leader to have operated in. Every issue you could think about that a leader might deal with—many leaders dealing with any of them in isolation would say it was difficult. She had to deal with them all at once. So you have a workforce where 70% of it is illiterate, speaking nine different languages. It’s entirely possible that none of those nine languages are English or Afrikaans, which are the languages spoken by the supervisors of the company. You have the legacy of apartheid, which is still deeply felt of course in South Africa. You have political tensions where the mining industry has a history of essentially using apartheid to generate cheap labor to generate profits in South Africa that the government of South Africa understandably resents, and so they are not favorably disposed towards mining companies. She came in, in fact, when Anglo American had just moved its corporate headquarters from South Africa to London and was now registered in the London Stock Exchange. So that had caused problems in South Africa, even before she joined.

BK: In addition to that, this is a very, very dangerous work environment. In the Rustenburg Mine in particular they were doing the most dangerous kind of mining.

GM: That’s right. To quote a line from the case, “this is deep, underground, hard rock mining.” This is the most dangerous thing people do. That is not an exaggeration. Before I wrote this case, I actually went a mile underground to visit the mine to get a feel for what it was like.

BK: That must have been interesting.

GM: It was extraordinary. Rustenburg is platinum mining through solid rock a mile underground. So don’t think of it like a hole in the ground. Think of it like a city of 30,000 people done in tunnels underneath one mile of solid rock. That’s the experience you have to have in mind if you want to imagine what it’s like to be in Rustenburg. Everything you mine you have to haul vertically up a mile, just to get the ore, before you can refine it. And just to make things even more fun, this is a 12-hour shift you’re working here. So if you’re claustrophobic, you don’t want this experience. We’re carrying about 40 pounds of equipment. It’s hot. It’s wet. It’s loud. And because anything you mine you have to haul up a mile to the surface, it’s really important that you only mine the platinum-bearing rock. You can’t mine other stuff because it’s too expensive.

BK: You cite in the case that it takes 280 tons of platinum to make one ring.

GM: Yes, 280 tons of ore to make one ring. That’s right. Taken from a mile underground. So in this case the reef at Rustenburg is only one meter thick. It’s about the height of a desk. You spend those 12 hours (and I did this with a steam drill) on your hands and knees with your head touching the ceiling drilling in a one-meter-high space. That’s what a shift in the mines is like. I don’t think there’s another environment like it on earth.

BK: And you do something unique when you teach the class. Can you describe how you start the class off?

GM: I really wanted [my students] to get the feel for what it’s like. It’s impossible to do that in any realistic sense. But what I did do is the first time somebody talks about what it’s like to be in a mine—almost always someone in a section has been in a mine. I say, okay, but let’s stop for a second. Let’s process that. Everybody get under your desk. I have every single one of them get under the desk and sit under the desk. And believe me, they want out. They want to be under and then say, “that was great” and bounce back out. And I have to say, “no, I want you to stay under the desk for a minute or so while I talk and just imagine what it’s like being in this posture for 12 hours while you’re doing just incredibly heavy physical labor that entire stretch of time.” That’s being in the mines.

BK: How do students react to the case?

GM: There’s an interesting mixture. Some people are horrified, who just find the idea that anyone would die in a mining accident in a company just to be unacceptable. In fact, Cynthia herself had said that her goal as the CEO of Anglo American was zero harm. They should never have a single person hurt. Then there are some students who think every one of these jobs has 100 people applying for it, which is true. There are people who compete desperately to get one of these mining jobs because, given the unemployment rate for people in South Africa, it’s a—not everyone may think of it as a good job, but they often do.

BK: So the fundamental question that the protagonist (Cynthia, in this case) faces is: does she decrease production? Does she shut down operations? What is she trying to address ultimately?

GM: She has to decide that. In fact, it is a wonderful moment because you are the CEO of one of the world’s most important companies. This is as high as the stakes ever get. We’re talking 600,000 people might be dependent on what decision she makes. What is the most important thing for her? Should they keep producing? Rustenburg is not a trivial thing. Rustenburg is the largest platinum mine in the world. Everything she does has global impact. What is the most important thing: making sure that no one else dies and doing whatever you have to do to stop that? Does that mean just shutting down the mine, with the knowledge that in the history of South Africa no company has ever voluntarily shut down a mine for safety reasons? Is the most important thing continuing with operations in what is, after all, a commodity business? Mining is the quintessential commodity business. It’s not like Anglo American has market power. If they don’t sell platinum, somebody else will. They have customers who need that platinum. We think of platinum as jewelry but platinum is actually most important for catalytic converters. So there’s a profound industrial need to keep producing this quantity. You have shareholders. In fact, many Anglo American shareholders are pensioners in South Africa who depend on this for their retirement. So all of the stakes here are about as high as you can get and she has to decide pretty much at that moment what her hallmark is going to be as the CEO of Anglo American. What is her legacy going to be and how is she going to execute on that?

BK: I won’t ask you to tell us how that ends in class. But if there’s a rising manager out there who is in a similar situation where they’re working in an environment where people’s safety is at stake and they’re concerned, they’re aware of things, and they need to manage that, is there some take-away from this case that they should have?

GM: The most important thing is simple. Never ever underrate what you as a leader can do. Never underestimate the capacity for change that you might have. If Cynthia had said the day she took over the job, “this is what I’m going to achieve, this is what I’m going to do while I’m the CEO of Anglo American,” I think anyone else would have said that’s impossible. Can’t be done. No one can do this in the South African environment. And that didn’t stop her. I think you can know that it shouldn’t stop you either. This is a leader who had in her hand hundreds of lives and could decide what happened to them. When I used to say nobody dies in business? I was wrong. People do. And you can change that if you decide to.

BK: Professor Gautam Mukunda, thank you for joining us today.

GM: Thank you, Brian.

BK: You can find the Cynthia Carroll case online at HBR.org and you can find other episodes of Cold Call on iTunes and Sound Cloud or follow us on Twitter at our hashtag #HBSColdCall.

-END OF PODCAST-

Post A Comment

In order to be published, comments must be on-topic and civil in tone, with no name calling or personal attacks. Your comment may be edited for clarity and length.