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Jennifer Maki, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice-President of mining giant Vale Canada Ltd. joins PwC Partner John Donnelly to discuss the challenges facing Vale Canada and the importance of sustainability to the company’s business model.
John: What would you say are some of Vale Canada’s greatest challenges in the short to medium term?
Jennifer: The challenges are delivering capital projects on time and on budget. Having completed the New Caledonia mining project, we have the Long Harbour (Newfoundland) nickel-processing project and the Atmospheric Emissions Reduction project at our operations in Sudbury. Those three projects alone are worth about $10 billion. It’s a challenge that’s not unique to Vale, but to the industry in terms of getting the right people to deliver projects on time and on budget. Another major challenge is human capital. We work in remote operations and trying to attract people there can be difficult. We have that challenge at our various sites in Canada and Brazil.
John: How do you attract top talent in an industry where employee recruitment and retention is an ongoing challenge?
Jennifer: We’re spending much more time recruiting on campuses, and we’re trying to do a lot of apprenticeship and Aboriginal training programs. We’re also becoming flexible in our HR packages, our remote site allowances and giving people trips back to the cities, while also offering competitive wage packages. John: How do you replicate a strong corporate culture in multiple operations across the globe at the same time?
Jennifer: We tried to be the same in every dimension in our operations in Brazil, Canada, Indonesia and New Caledonia, and we’ve realized you can’t. There are certain key things you have to implement globally, but we’re realizing you have to cater or customize for certain regions because cultures are very different. The workforce in Brazil, for example, is much more mobile and they’re much more willing to pursue opportunities outside of their home cities and towns than people are in Canada. But our one emphasis across the board is that safety comes first. We want every one of our employees to return home safely to their families.
John: How did Inco’s culture change after the merger with Vale?
Jennifer: We’ve probably become more performance driven by key performance indicators and metrics. You see it right through Vale from their compensation packages to how people are rewarded. I think part of that is coming from a country like Brazil, where there’s a very hungry group of people who have grown up in a developing country. I think they’ve instilled that here and made some major changes across our Canadian operations.
John: Why is sustainability such a strong focus for Vale Canada?
Jennifer: It’s one of Vale’s guiding principles and I think it’s something we do very well. If you look at our iron ore operations in the middle of the Amazon in Brazil, for example, there’s an expertise there in operating in those types of sensitive environments. I think our record shows that it’s our priority to be a good corporate citizen from the sustainability side and across the board. Wherever we go we’re dealing with a community and you have to respect that you’re going into their area. We have a very successful story in Indonesia where we’ve been operating since the early 1970s, as well as, more recently, in Mozambique. It’s shown we can respect the cultures and communities we work with.
John: How has Vale Canada worked to refine relations with key stakeholders such as Aboriginal groups and environmentalists?
Jennifer: We have to understand what matters to them and what their needs are, and I think you need to have an open dialogue based on trust. Each of our operations has point people that manage those relations from a line-of-business perspective and from a Vale global perspective. People in the field go to workshops and discuss strategy and learn from successes we’ve had in Brazil, for example, and how we can apply those in Indonesia, or how we can apply some success in Canada to our operations in New Caledonia. We do try to leverage our success stories and also share our challenges so others don’t face those. There’s a strategic point and there’s an execution point and you have to do both right.