WHAT NOW FOR OK TEDI?
“We’ve survived very well,” he notes. “We had that six-week shutdown but the metal prices helped us out at the end of the year, so we were down on production but financially as a business, we achieved what we set out to do.”
Stone is quick to praise the reaction of his team in the face of an unprecedented situation. He acknowledges that while following measures has had its trials and tribulations, his team has worked well together. “We use this term ‘one team, one culture’ and when we face these challenges, we face them together,” he says. “People obviously didn’t want to be tied down and be restricted with face masks, but they got on with it and understood the importance of do it.
“This even extended to placing a ban on some traditions. There is a custom in Western Province where we operate that at the end of a handshake, you click your fingers with the other person as you separate your hands. We had to stop that because it’s another opportunity for transmission. I love that myself so I hate the fact that we can’t do it, but we have no choice. We, like everyone else in the world, are suffering from COVID-19 fatigue and want our vaccines in order to return to a more normal life but in the meantime we continue to follow the guidance.”
However, despite COVID’s unwelcome disruption, working in PNG offers a host of benefits. Stone is full of praise for the lifestyle that working at Ok Tedi brings. “In PNG, there is a solid mining industry and there are only a few big players, us being one of them. Being a PNG-owned company, this gives us a bit of a boost and people see the advantages in working with a company that is owned by the country. We make sure our remuneration packages are attractive so that people feel like they are being properly rewarded. The lifestyle here is good so people are able to live and work in comfortable conditions. We focus on our culture and the development of people. Today, I’m confident that we’re the mining industry employer of choice.”
But despite salary and reputation being key reasons for recruitment, training and development is another important pillar of keeping employees effective and motivated. Ultimately, Stone believes that training is at the heart of success and personal growth, stressing that great strides have been made to improve and aid development in recent years.
“It’s key to attraction and retention, as well as to people development,” he says. “We have a training centre that we’ve revitalised in recent years. It’s now called the “Dr Jacob Weiss Training Centre.” Dr Weiss was one of our late directors and is a very renowned person within the country, so we thought it fitting to name it after him. Through that centre, we offer a wide range of traineeships for young people as well as on-going training for the workforce. The training centre not only addresses skill gaps in the workforce but provide services to operations as part of the training process.”
Upon the appointment of Musje Werror as Managing Director and CEO, Stone, like all members of leadership, sat down with Werror to discuss their vision for Ok Tedi. This led to the formation of Ok Tedi’s vision for the next few years. By the end of 2023, all of the company’s management positions will be filled by national employees; while by the end of 2025, all its executive positions will be filled by national employees. At the centre of making this ambition a reality is training and development, which demonstrates the importance of the programmes the company offers.
“Our leadership development programme is also vital,” adds Stone. “In 2019, we launched our first programme which was aimed at our frontline supervisors to equip them with the skills they need to lead their teams. And we’re just launching our second leadership programme, which is targeted at the more senior staff which can help them at their current role as well as preparing them to move up to the next level.”
With a considerable amount of change in the last few years, Ok Tedi doesn’t rest on its laurels and isn’t content to stand still. Reflecting on a particularly influential initiative in the recent past, Stone believes there is one that sticks out the most from a business perspective.
“In 2015, we were a very high cost operation and as a result of a dry weather event, operations shut down for around six months,” he explains. “There was a new Managing Director at the time, so it was a fresh start and an opportunity to have a reset. We are now one of the lowest cost producers in the industry globally. This whole discipline around managing business, cost and driving improvement is a key part of who we now are. In terms of specific things, we’ve invested a lot of money over the past few years in renewing much of the infrastructure and equipment. The mine has been in operation for 36 years so some of the infrastructure is beginning to show its age and requires upgrading. An example is the new in-pit crusher.
“This was a major improvement because the previous crusher was in a pretty poor state and was also sitting on top of some high-grade ore. By building a new crusher in another location, we now not only have a modern reliable piece of plant, but also have access to that high-grade material that will make a huge difference to the business over the coming years.”
However, for Stone and his role, he affirms that the focus on people, culture and values within the company has been transformational. “The company’s culture and approach to work is a major contributor to the company’s success,” explains Stone. “We put together a team that we call the Pasin Ok Tedi Team, which was drawn from some of the ‘movers and shakers’ within the organisation. Their role is to help communicate to the workforce what it means to live our values through our daily decisions and actions and to provide feedback to the executive team on opportunities to continue to improve our culture. This has had a huge impact on all of us feeling and operating as one team aligned towards a common set of goals. Unlocking the potential of people to work together toward a common goal is a huge piece of the puzzle.”
With the future in mind, Stone outlines four key pillars that he is focused on over the next few years. These are: maintaining and building on the culture, a focus on national leadership, increasing gender diversity into the workforce and upgrading old systems.
“We have invested time in developing our people strategy because ultimately, people are at the heart of what we do,” explains Stone. “Firstly, we have to ensure that people remain focused on contributing to the Ok Tedi vision and buy into the culture. Secondly, it’s about developing national leaders to take up leadership roles. Being clear, we’re not kicking out expats but it’s about having nationals in leadership positions and having expats provide guidance and mentorship.”
However, Stone acknowledges there is still work to be done to improve gender diversity within his organisation. “At the moment, only around 11 percent of our workforce is female,” he says. “However, by the end of 2023, we want to double that. If the gender mix of the country is roughly 50/50, we should be doing better than our current mix. This is a generational change and doesn’t happen overnight. With the assistance of our very active Ok Tedi Women’s Network (OWN) and by being very intentional about achieving it, we can make a difference in gender diversity.”
Finally, Ok Tedi is modernising its processes and undergoing a digital transformation. “We’ve been here a long time and some of our processes are a bit old-fashioned,” admits Stone. “We’re upgrading all our systems and are just about to launch a new cloud-based HR platform which will streamline tasks, provide greater visibility and reduce the risk of losing previously paper-based information.”
INSIDE MARK STONE’S ROLE
OTML attracts, develops and retains a highly engaged and skilled national workforce with a small number of expatriates in key roles for a total of around 1,800 employees, operating through a mostly Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) operation. OTML strives to create a healthy and safe working environment, free from hostility, offensiveness, bullying, intimidation and harassment, racial vilification and any form of unlawful discrimination.
Ok Tedi achieves success through open and honest communications with employees about job goals and performance, the delivery of targeted skill development programmes, productive annual performance reviews and feedback as well as competitive individual and team-based performance-based remuneration and benefits.
Ok Tedi is a FIFO operation working 12-hour shifts, four weeks on by four weeks off, although the expatriate rotation is longer at the moment based on COVID-19 quarantine requirements. Some managers, superintendents and employees from the local area rent accommodation and live on site in Tabubil and Kiunga.
OTML respects the rights of workers to be represented by a union. The organisation has had a productive working relationship with union executive members and engage in regular consultation and communication to assist in the quick resolution of grievances and ensure workforce alignment.
OTML has a proud record of nurturing and developing Papua New Guineans to progress their careers within the mining industry. This has enabled the localisation of many positions which are historically held by expats.