New structures helped realise company vision
Cultivating relationships with unions and workers restored trust within teams
During the past two years at Lonmin there have been the changes Rodney Opperman has wanted to see since joining the company in 2002 — flatter management structures and, for general managers of shafts, direct reporting lines to CEO Ben Magara.
For Opperman, who is vice president of Saffy and K3 shafts, a personal highlight of his time with Lonmin was being given charge of Saffy, the shaft earmarked for closure, by Magara. He has brought changes that may just save the operation, which has absorbed R10bn.
“It was a ‘wow’ moment for me; that someone believed in my abilities. One of my strengths is leadership; I can bring teams together,” he says, citing his track record at K3, Hossy, Newman and other Lonmin shafts as he rose through managerial ranks.
Getting employees to understand the vision by working closely with them and encouraging collaboration with teams was critical.
“I did exactly what Magara has done during the past five years, but in a much smaller space: communicate, align people, understand them and engage,” he says.
One of the major experiences for Opperman was the rise of the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
He speaks of the “disarray” within the workforce and the difficulties in managing employees who felt the power had shifted to Amcu rather than to company leadership.
“As managers we were afraid to tell them to do their jobs and that’s when things fell flat.”
These developments all fed into the tragedy at Marikana in August 2012 and then again into the fivemonth strike in 2014.
Lonmin grappled with the right model to bring calm and productivity to its employees, changing chief operating officers a number of times until Magara finally took over the role of CEO.
“One of the big changes Magara brought was the relationship he developed with Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa. It was a very strategic move to get their leader to talk to them,” he says. “It was the creation of a team. Suddenly everything picked up. We saw big changes in the executive committee. We’ve seen the changes in the past two years that we’ve wanted for so long.”
Rodney Opperman: New teams brought about much-needed changes