When soft-spoken septuagenarian Nelson Pizarro took the helm of Chile’s state copper behemoth in mid-2014 he noticed how happy people were at one of its underperforming mines. So he removed all the key managers. The result: costs fell and output reached capacity for the first time.
“A sense of vulnerability was lacking,” he said in an interview from Santiago, where executives from the world’s biggest mining companies are meeting this week. “People must understand the company’s financial health.”
The anecdote reflects a management philosophy honed over a five-decade career in the mining industry that earned Pizarro the nickname “scissor-hands.” On his watch, the world No. 1 copper miner has brought down costs by about 15 percent, more than many of its private-sector rivals.
That’s allowing Codelco to keep churning out near-record levels of the metal that drives Chile’s economy even after prices slumped for a third straight year.
It’s making the bespectacled engineer and grandfather of 16 an unlikely hero for President Michelle Bachelet’s education and health programs.
(Codelco handed over $1.1 billion to Chile last year even as prices approached seven-year lows.) It will also put him center stage among his cost cutting-obsessed peers at the industry’s annual get-together.
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