When asked about what he thought the major miners had done well or badly during the seven years that he had been on the sidelines of the industry following the Xstrata merger with Glencore, Sir Mick said:
- Some good progress had been made in reducing costs and restoring balance sheets post the excessive capital spend binge that had occurred mid-decade and destroyed considerable shareholder value.
- Now, however, there is a danger of the miners and investors being too focused on short- term cash returns, whereas natural resources companies need to be investing constantly to replace the reserves they dig out of the ground.
- One of the biggest challenges was finding investors who truly understood the cyclicality of the industry, and emphasising that it cannot be seen as a quasi-annuity.
- One of the ways to start investing in growth again would be to partner with junior explorers and developers, to share geographic risk and to tap the entrepreneurial spirit that is in danger of being wiped out in the very large, very centralised majors.
- Another challenge facing the industry is persuading bright young people to follow a career in the mining sector when it gets such bad press on ESG issues. The sector does a very poor job of portraying its strengths and explaining that the metals and minerals that it mines and beneficiates are used in improving the lives of people across the globe. In particular, there is a compelling story to be told around those commodities whose characteristics may enable them to be used in working towards a “greener economy” (e.g. batteries in electric vehicles and developments around a hydrogen economy).