The reality distortion field, made famous by Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson, is a personal intensity and vision so powerful it bends people to your will, convincing them of a project’s higher purpose. Isaacson describes this capacity for influence as a notorious trait of Steve Jobs, who, as founder and CEO of Apple, managed to ship mountainous innovation that consistently redefined the relationship between art and technology.
An interesting footnote here is the fact that Robert Friedland, one of the world’s most successful global resource developers, taught Jobs about the reality distortion field when Jobs was a college student in 1972. And he’s used it to promote a ton of successful mining ventures over the past 35 years—he’s found and developed them on nearly every corner of the globe. And became a multi-billionaire in the process.
I was actually on a trip with Friedland last week, touring three of his latest mining projects in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I didn’t realize how privileged I was to be included in the crew, which consisted of members of Friedland’s family and a few investors, until on his Gulfstream jet on the way there, his 39-year-old geologist son Govind looked at me puzzled, then joked to his dad, “What is a blogger doing here?”
A good question. Friedland has for decades been reclusive—even combative toward the media.
“I’ve been emailing your dad every two weeks for two years telling him that I look forward to joining him on a site visit in the near future, and that it’s going to be great!” I quipped.
“Aha,” said Govind, “The reality distortion field.”
The truth was that Friedland was headed to Africa to keynote the 2014 Mining Indaba in Cape Town—considered the biggest mining investment convention in the world—and had, finally, let me tag along.
In Cape Town, Friedland told an audience of over a thousand high-level investors and government bureaucrats that Ivanhoe Mines’ has three world-scale mineral discoveries coming soon, “to a theatre near you.”
We flew from the conference to Limpopo province in northern South Africa, where Friedland’s company spent nearly 20 years looking for platinum before finding arguably the best platinum ore body ever discovered: the Platreef project.
A Japanese consortium gave Ivanhoe Mines $290 million for 10% of Platreef in 2010 and 2011. The first shaft is set to be sunk any day now, and once built, Platreef will be unlike all other platinum mines in South Africa.
Platinum production is a mess in South Africa. Sure, 73% of the world’s platinum originates there, but the average mine is a kilometer deep, where underground workers mine ore bodies just a meter thick, in blazing hot temperatures upwards of 122ºF (50ºC).
Conversely, the Platreef ore body is 24 meters thick on average—a freak of nature by platinum standards—which will allow for air-conditioned, mechanized labor. In fact, Friedland bets that most of the project’s underground workforce will be women; they are proven to be better at operating large mining machinery, he says.
While Platreef waits on its Mining Right, which is expected in the next few months, the company plans to publish a Preliminary Economic Assessment by summer. Financing for the proposed mine will likely continue to come from Japan, which needs the metal for catalytic converters and other new technologies. Social license is the project’s biggest risk, but the company has devoted substantial resources on the communication, training and jobs creation fronts. Ultimately, Friedland is hopeful the project will get built for a 2018 startup. Mining operations could last 100+ years, as the 28.5-million-plus-ounce platinum, palladium, gold and rhodium deposit remains open to the West and South.
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