February 2017

Book Review: Strictly (Mining) Boardroom – Volume II

  • By Reviewed by Ivy Chen MAusIMM, Principal Consultant, CSA Global

by Allan Trench and John Sykes

As the subtitle suggests, this book is a practitioner’s guide for the next generation of directors.

The book is a handy collection of short articles originally published in the Strictly Boardroom series at miningnews.net. 

The episodic structure of the book makes it a convenient reference to dip in and out of as needed, and it is a very useful addition to a desktop bookshelf. The key insights at the end of each section are also valuable. The nine sections (slightly paraphrased) are:

  • In the boardroom
  • Strategic management
  • Looking to the future
  • At the coal face
  • Competition and excellence
  • Exploration strategy
  • Exploration management
  • Mineral economics and finance
  • Mineral policy and regulation.

The articles reflect the experience of both authors as geologists and mineral economists, with the content aimed more at the junior to mid-tier resources sector and not the big end of town.

Pragmatic governance advice is offered, gleaned from the authors’ experience as well as from interviewing industry figures. I particularly valued the commentary around traps and pitfalls to avoid. The first section’s emphasis on boardroom culture, and the effective receipt and transmission of communication, is also noteworthy – too often the emphasis is on effective delivery but not how to listen and process.

Strategic management is discussed in section two. The key takeaway here is the importance of understanding the core business and markets. Balanced measures of innovation, diversification and a healthy dash of luck round out the formula for strategic success.

Looking to the future and managing the present are covered in sections three to seven, with the same pragmatism and common sense offered in highly readable bites. Successful strategy relies on spotting future opportunities and setting the company up to take advantage of them. Many companies sink or swim depending on whether this is seen as wildly optimistic crystal ball gazing or forecasts with a reasonable economic basis. In light of this, Trench and Sykes examine the value of using trend analysis and scenario planning.

The intricacies of being a resources company director are discussed, covering situations that range from exploration junior to emerging producer and onto being a diversified, multi-commodity, multi-project mid-tier company.  Those who work in the industry recognise that every project has its unique traits. Trench and Sykes choose very apt phrases to disabuse anyone of the notion that there are any templates to run a resources company – there is no Toyota, Google or Apple of mining. A personal favourite quote of mine: ‘mining emperors wear few clothes’. The imagery is quite delectable!

Trench and Sykes make a strong point that a company’s culture, morale and resulting performance are strongly guided by the directors. In an industry downturn, this is the difference between survivors and casualties.

Throughout the volume, there is a thoughtful examination of the inclusion of more women in the resources industry at all levels and how this might best be accomplished through an evolutionary process rather than revolutionary.

The final two sections cover mineral economics, finance, regulation and policy – areas that a director needs to understand but generally cannot control to any great degree. The expertise of both authors in these areas is evident, and these sections represent a nicely succinct guide and primer. The capacity for government and the general non-mining population to impact our industry are covered objectively and are a good reminder that we do not operate in a vacuum – we have neighbours and others that we need to consider as we make our plans and operate.

My only minor grievance with this highly informative volume is that it is light on discussion of my own areas of ignorance, namely mine planning and design and processing. Perhaps the next volume will include a chapter or two on these topics.

I would recommend this book as valuable reading for resources industry directors and an aide-mémoire for the more experienced ones. The minimal use of jargon and the almost ‘chatty’ tone make this book a good overview for non-industry readers with an interest in what we do and how we do it.

Strictly (Mining) Boardroom is available from www.majorstreet.com.au.

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