FORMER Anglo Platinum CEO Neville Nicolau says he might have been able to save the world’s biggest platinum miner from last year’s crippling five-month strike if he had not been given the cold shoulder by Cynthia Carroll.
At the time of their disagreement, the US-born Carroll was CEO of Anglo American, which owns 78% of Anglo Platinum, and chairwoman of Amplats. Nicolau, who was CEO of Amplats from 2008 to July 2012, said in an interview that he took a “very significant” proposal to the Amplats board about how it could survive falling platinum prices and looming labour strife — but the board was not interested.
“Cynthia Carroll disagreed completely with what I wanted to do with the company,” he says.
Nicolau’s frank admissions mark the first time that the boardroom unhappiness about Carroll’s leadership style has spilt out. Carroll left the group in November 2012, shortly after Nicolau, under intense pressure from shareholders.
“There were certain actions which I needed to take. Amcu [the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union] was on its way in and there was a better way to manage that. The metal price was on its way down and there was a better way to manage that. There were opportunities to consolidate the platinum sector.”
A strike seemed inevitable, Nicolau says, “but with a bit of mature, positive leadership I think the issues could have been resolved within a month and not five months”.
He says Carroll, the first non-South African to lead Anglo, never wanted him to be the CEO of Amplats in the first place.
At the time, Anglo was under huge pressure from the government to improve its safety record — and Carroll apparently believed Nicolau was part of the problem.
“Because I was part of the South African mining industry, my own record didn’t count. She thought I had blood on my hands. They tried very hard to find someone from overseas to run Amplats,” he says.
“We crossed swords from the very beginning. As long as Fred Phaswana was the chairman of Amplats, it was possible to resolve differences by using him as the mediator.”
When Phaswana left in 2010, Carroll “made herself” chairwoman and overruled her more experienced CEO, he says. Nicolau, who now heads Basil Read, was highly rated by analysts who believed that if anyone could fix the badly ailing Amplats, it was him.
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