The CEO Magazine has named Gerhard Veldsman, COO of mining company Roy Hill, as 2020’s COO of the Year.
After just over a year in the position (Gerhard joined Roy Hill in August 2019, after eight years with Fortescue Metals Group), he has overseen huge improvements through a universally difficult period.
Central to this were his efforts to maintain operations throughout the pandemic, ensuring that business continued as normal without a single reported case of COVID-19. But Gerhard’s endeavours can’t be reduced simply to surviving – Roy Hill saw its best production quarter ever in 2020, and also topped safety performances.
Specific achievements in 2020 include the opening of the company’s first WHIMS plant in the Pilbara – distinctively painted pink in support of breast cancer awareness. At the same time, Roy Hill is ramping up production to 60 million tonnes a year, with the goal of 70 million in the 2021 financial year.
It's no surprise Gerhard and Roy Hill will be celebrating National Mining Day on the 22nd of November. "I think the whole country has realised how important the mining industry and the resources sector are," he says. "Because if it wasn’t for the resources sector going through the pandemic, we wouldn’t have been paying royalties, taxes or salaries and Australia would have been so much worse off."
Gerhard credits his part in enabling the company’s accomplishments to his commitment to the Roy Hill team. He’s a firm believer in clear and simple messaging, with equally easy-to-understand targets. From there, he works to ensure people are empowered to achieve these goals, while serving as a role model for a culture of continuous improvement.
As a leader, he sees value in getting people to understand an organisation’s vision, but most importantly, understanding how they fit within that vision and contribute to it. Caring for the people in his charge, building effective teams and being flexible enough to respond to new challenges and opportunities for Roy Hill continue to be high priorities for Gerhard.
Another leadership trait the COO values is a focus on simplifying, even when things tend towards complication.
This simplification involved streamlining business planning processes to ensure the business’ systems were supporting operations. This turned out to be beneficial, allowing a rapid response to COVID-19 and thus driving those record highs in production and safety.
Another big change he’s driven involves integrating Roy Hill’s business model, across the mine, rail and port operations. These measures have allowed the company to combine roles and reduce labour cost, which, alongside automation of the mining fleet, has maximised value through minimising costs.
His gratitude for the win goes to Executive Chairman, Gina Rinehart, who put him forward for the award. "It really makes me feel very valued in the organisation. It’s also a great reflection of the whole company’s performance and how we came together over the last 12 months, delivered on safety and operational performance, while absolutely making sure there were no COVID infections onsite."
As he moves forward with Roy Hill, Gerhard is determined to ensure alignment between short-term goals and long-term outcomes, with a continuing focus on clear objectives and targets. Perhaps most critically, he believes it’s essential to explain how these fit into the Executive Chair’s vision, while bringing the team on the journey.
"We have to look after our people and make sure they're engaged and safe," Gerhard says. "They should have all the information they need to be able to do their work really well, because if we deliver results at the lower levels, it all boils up to delivering results on the global levels."