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Machetes and mowers

When you’re anxious to go on a tour of an African mine site, sitting in a florescent lit room listening to presentations makes you a little jumpy and inattentive. Even so, when Jay Bastian started talking about the mowing operations at his mine, my ears perked up.

In a way, Randy Barnes and Jay Bastian’s relationship is a micro-reflection of Newmont Mining. Randy is the External Affairs Manager at Ahafo. Jay Bastian is the General Manager. Randy, citizenship and social affairs. Jay, operations. Randy, keep the peace. Jay, make the profits.

A few years ago, former Newmont CEO Wayne Murdy approached Scott McLagan — lead professor on this trip and director of Daniels’ executive programs — to help him change the culture at Newmont.

“We’re really good at operations,” Scott will tell you Wayne said. “We know what we’re doing behind the fence line. But I need our people to be spending more than half their time thinking outside the fence line.”

Academics call this focusing on your social license to operate. Newmont calls it profitability.

Newmont engaged Daniels to deliver custom corporate programs on team building, ethics, and sustainability. Multi-week programs, delivered multiple times over the course of several years for all management-level employees flown to Denver from around the world.

Daniels will have you believe that these programs contributed to Newmont’s cultural turnaround. A turnaround that resulted in Newmont’s media placements moving from arrests and water contamination in Indonesia to being placed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (the first and only mining company with such a listing).

As they say in PR, that’s much better ink.

It’s a turnaround that began by placing Newmont’s Environmental and Social Responsibility managers at the decision making table with operations. They’d have to work hard to align values. A risky proposition for a company (in an industry) that’s always been all about operations.

Jump back to Ahafo. Jay tells our group that it would easier and cheaper to not hire so many people at the Ahafo mine. They employ less people, he said, for much larger operations and more production at their Nevada, U.S. site.

“I could do mowing operations cheaper, faster, and at a higher quality with a tractor than I could hiring a dozen guys with machetes.”

Randy interrupts to remind us that it’s a payoff against being a good corporate citizen. A valued member of the community.

Jay looks at Randy as if to say “That’s nice. Can we get back to operations?”

I wonder how many Newmont shareholders, way back in the comfy environs of the west, have had the same sentiment.

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