A conversation with the big boss

By: 
Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, September 5, 2019
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Photo by Lee Wilder
          
            Pictured from the left: Chairman of Board of the Stillwater Valley Weed Council Tim Schaff, Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal J. Froneman and President of Stillwater Protective Association Van Wood.

Tucked away in a conference room off of a busy Pike Avenue in Columbus last Thursday afternoon, Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neil Froneman took a brief respite from what had already been a long day.

The South African arose at 4 a.m. to finish prepping for what turned out to be a nearly 2-hour long international web conference call on the company’s results for the first half of 2019. Nearly half of that time was filled with questions from representatives of Bloomberg, Gramercy, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, RBC Capital Markets and HSBC. Such is the life for the head of a company that runs six gold mines and five PGM sites (Platinum Group Metals) in South Africa, plus two PGM mines and a smelter in Montana.

When Froneman and Sibanye-Stillwater Vice President of Legal, Environmental and Government Affairs Heather McDowell rolled into Columbus a bit after 3 p.m., it was for a brief stop — one more media interview and a few minutes to catch his breath before heading to the Beartooth Christian Ranch for the Neighborhood Gathering event, hosted by the Stillwater Protective Association, Stillwater Valley Watershed Council and Sibanye-Stillwater.

Despite a myriad of in-depth topics discussed at the morning web conference call (along with a 35-page power point presentation), Froneman easily recalled a handful of issues and expanded on them further for the News.

In short, the Montana mine sites have — and are expected to continue to — serve as both a financial and mental buoy following what can only be described as a difficult 2018 at the company’s non-U.S. sites.

Specifically, an unprecedented 21 fatalities at Sibanye-Stillwater South African mine sites, as well as a 5-month long strike at one gold mine.

In contrast, the Stillwater and East Boulder mines have not had a fatality since October 2011, which translates into 2.4 million fatality-free shifts. Contract negotiations have been uneventful since Sibanye-Stillwater purchased the Stillwater Mining Co., in 2017.

“They (the Nye and the East Boulder mines) are the crowning jewel of the company,” said Froneman, noting that last year, the Montana mines accounted for 49 percent of the entire company’s profit.

A WORLD LEADER

Sibanye-Stillwater doesn’t do anything small. It is currently the world’s largest primary producer of platinum, the second largest producer of palladium, the third largest producer of gold (on a gold-equivalent basis). The company is also the leading global recycler of spent PGM catalytic converter materials — done primarily at the smelter facility in Columbus.

When Sibanye bought the Stillwater Mining Company in August of 2017, it added Stillwater to its name, officially becoming Sibanye-Stillwater.

Aside from performance and safety, mining responsibly and treating people fairly are high on the company’s priority list. One change that has been made under Froneman’s charge is a focus on something he calls recognizing the importance of “all stakeholders,” as opposed to just shareholders. That, says Froneman, is key to the successful sustainability of the company. Stakeholders include employees, customers and the communities in which mines operate. Froneman has previously pointed toward the Good Neighbor Agreement as being a world-class example of this and he is currently implementing similar agreements at South African sites.

Last month, 181 CEOs of the Business Round Table in the U.S. released a statement that mirrors that approach regarding the “Purpose of a Corporation,” which includes not only shareholders, but also stockholders, which includes customers, employees, suppliers and local communities, according to a New York Times article and the Sibanye-Stillwater H1 Operating and Financial Results documents.

The Round Table is comprised of nearly 200 CEOs of major U.S. corporations.

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