Chris Griffith: Anglo Platinum’s leader on the CEO SleepOut, fuel cells and a challenge to his mining peers

LONDON — Anglo Platinum CEO Chris Griffith is among the 200 CEOs who will be sleeping rough at Liliesleaf Farm on July 11, getting a taste of conditions that homeless people experience every night. Griffith is a veteran of South Africa’s CEO SleepOut™ project and in this fascinating discussion explains why he keeps coming back. Sandwiched between SleepOut™ chat are some fascinating insights into the reason why, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the platinum industry’s death “are greatly exaggerated.” – Alec Hogg

In this CEO update we’re going to be talking to the CEO of Anglo Platinum, Chris Griffith. Well, it’s really good to be linking up with you, Chris. The Nelson Mandela 2018 CEO SleepOut™ promises to be quite an occasion as it is being held at Liliesleaf. What’s your involvement with it?

Well, Alec, thanks for the opportunity. Well, I’m going to be there with everyone else on the evening, sleeping out. I was fortunate enough to be at the very first one that we held here in Johannesburg, and frankly, looking forward to being there on the evening. Not only to be part of an opportunity, just to rethink about the privilege that we have, the opportunity to make a difference and, of course, the financial contribution that we make by being part of this sleepout is for a very good cause.

It is, indeed. Do you take much home, or apart from perhaps the flu, from freezing in the cold that night?

I think everyone recognises that it’s a great opportunity to reflect and it really does do that so, people spend the evening pretty much talking about, (1) how privileged we are as individuals, (2) how privileged we are to be able to make a difference. I know there’s both positive and negative comments made about the SleepOut but the fact is, anything that raises money and that causes the country to reflect – it must be a good thing so, yes, I want to be part of that. I want to be part of being able to stand still for a while and again, reflect on how fortunate we are and again, how fortunate we are to be able to make a difference. So, yes, I do think it’s valuable and it’s valuable for us, as individuals but valuable for us as a country, to think about the great legacy that Nelson Mandela left us. The great responsibility that rests on our shoulders to be able to carry that forward. He set the path and he’s saying to us, ‘carry on and make a difference.’ I do think it is something positive and something that I want to be associated with.

Nelson Mandela has been gone for a while now. Did you have the chance to meet with him?

I have been where he has spoken but I’ve never personally met him. But every single one of us, South Africans, are incredibly proud of the legacy that he left for us, both black and white South Africans.

Who are you going to be taking with you on the 11th July?

We’re going as a team so, we’ve got 5 of us. So, I’m joined with one of my executive team, Gordon Smith, I’m also joined with a fairly young senior up and coming manager, called Ellie Brümmer and I’ve got 2 very young, and extremely talented young engineers that have just graduated that are in our graduate program, both of them guys – Champion Mtileni and Ernest Ncube, both of them from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds but through the company’s bursary programs, one is a metallurgist and one is a mining engineer, and they are absolute stars that are going to be the future leaders of this company so, they’re coming with us. So, we’ll have a team of 5 that are joining.

We know that SA has got its challenges and the platinum industry has its challenges as well. Interesting to see that you’ve got that diversity in your team that you’re taking there. No doubt, you used that diversity in your approach towards these very big challenges that are faced.

I think that’s absolutely right, Alec. We’ve got great leadership teams in Anglo Platinum. A leadership team has taken us through a very difficult past 5-years. But I think we’ve successfully turned the company around. I think we’ve repositioned the portfolio to be able to withstand some of the difficult challenges that, no doubt, still lay ahead of us, and that’s been due to an incredibly diverse team, from both male and female, black and white, young and old, so I think its been part of that diversity of the team that has helped us be successful. But it’s not just showcasing it. We’ve got some incredibly talented individuals that are coming through with some great young stars in our business.

Chris, I was reading in this past week the CEO of Hyundai promoting fuel cells. Now, from a platinum industry perspective, we won’t get too deeply into your company, but is this one of the areas that could transform the industry?

Alec, you know. You’ve been watching this industry for a long time and for almost decades we’ve been talking about the potential for fuel cells to change the industry. The one thing that we have seen over the last few years, but in particularly last year, is this rapid movement now into fuel cells. Japan and Korea have pretty much led the way, but also, the West coast of the US, and now Europe as well, are sort of starting to take a much faster approach to the adoption of fuel cells. But the real game changer has been China, in the last year. We all know, when big things happen they happen quickly and they happen at scale in China and already, we’ve started seeing cities become focussed on fuel cells, and really, their focus at the moment, is on heavy duty fuel cell vehicles and it’s starting to take off rapidly in China. So, it is something that we’re watching, and pushing, and doing everything we could to get momentum over a long period of time now, and I think finally, you’re seeing that really starting to happen. It came over the last number of years as a result of all the work they’ve done on the electrification of the car, and over a number of years now, that’s been put to bed. Then, for the last few years the focus has been on infrastructure development so, that it’s easy for you go and fill up your car with hydrogen, and of course, that’s a challenge. Certainly, in Japan and Korea, now some in the UK, some in the EU, but also on the West coast of the US – that’s really taking off now, and again, in China. So, we’re putting together a visit towards the end of this year, where we want to take people to go and showcase that so, they can get a feel. Fuel cells are really starting to take off. Whilst it’s still got a few years away, I think from materially impacting our business positively, that trajectory is now on its way.

Is it likely, if fuel cells were to take off to the degree that many hope, is it likely that it could replace auto catalysts as an offtake of platinum?

We don’t think so. We think that there will still be need because internal combustion engines are extremely efficient, they’re getting more efficient by the day. The fact is, an internal combustion engine, new diesels included and the latest technology for gasoline vehicles, with the combination of the latest technology auto cars. Those vehicles are efficient and can reach the kind of emissions legislation that is planned for ‘vehicles of the future’ and because of their efficiency and how easy it is actually, to use internal combustion engines – we don’t believe that gets displaced. What you do see is an increasing volume of electrification, which can be both battery electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles. The one thing you see is that there are, for as many people that comment on this, is the same amount of opinions as to what percentage will be of the entire vehicle fleet will be electrified in 10, 20, or 30 years time, and I guess no one really knows. But our view is that, and most of the work that we’ve done shows that actually all these different technologies have got a space. Much like you have a diesel co-existing alongside gasoline today. We believe that in the future, you will see the majority of the carpark will still be internal combustion engines. Then there will be for certain, mostly smaller vehicles, shorter riding distances, and where the infrastructure exists, and where sufficient electricity exists – you’re likely to see battery electric vehicles. When you want further driving distances – bigger vehicles, like big SUVs or trucks, and light delivery vehicles – those are more likely, when they are electrified to be fuel cells. But the majority of the vehicles we still think will be internal combustion engines. They will have exhaust catalysts, and because of that, will still use both platinum and palladium so, we do think that there’s still a fairly good demand for our PGMs on the auto catalyst business. But, as you correctly point out, for fuel cells, there’s a much higher use of platinum and that would be a very positive outcome for us.

Anglo American Platinum CEO Chris Griffith (C) at the 2015 CEO Sleepout.

So, the platinum sector in SA, which has been written-off by lots of people. They say, the reports of your death have been greatly exaggerated. Thanks for giving us that insight to it. Chris, who are you challenging to also participate in the CEO SleepOut™ on the 11th?

I’d like to challenge platinum CEOs. The fact that we’re not seeing their names yet, on the list, is what I would seek to rectify. So, my fellow platinum CEOs, Nico Muller from Implats, Paul Dunne from Northam Platinum, Ben Magara from Lonmin, Neal Froneman from Sibanye Stillwater and Mike Schmidt from ARM. Then to top it up, I think that we should absolutely have the CEO of the new, Chamber of Mines, which is the Minerals Council and Roger Baxter certainly should be challenged to be at the Mandela SleepOut.

There we have it. All of the platinum CEOs, including Neal Froneman, who has now joined your group, hasn’t he, since all those acquisitions he’s been making with Sibanye, and Roger Baxter, of course, has got to be there too. So, thanks for that, Chris. I don’t know how they’re going to be able to turn down that challenge and I’ll be putting a little pressure on them to join you as well. Why should we be the only ones to freeze that evening? Thanks for the chat and thanks for those insights into the fuel cell industry, and I think it will open quite a few minds as well. A very interesting evening coming on the 11th July, and we’ll be talking to Chris Griffith, no doubt, and the other platinum CEOs on that evening. Reflecting, as he says, on the fortunate situation that many of us are in because we only have to do this one night a year, considering the homeless do it every night.

This has been the update on the CEO SleepOut™ and my guest today Chris Griffith, the CEO of Anglo Platinum. Until the next time, cheerio.