Mining People Matters

Steve Heather

Steve Heather, Managing Director and Co-founder of Mining People International (MPi).

Build a great mining business (or a single department) and look brilliant along the way!

Build a great mining business (or a single department) and look brilliant along the way!

Build a great mining business (or a single department) and look brilliant along the way!

There was a terrific article on this subject referencing the world renowned business success story that became Southwest Airline in the U.S.

The article listed 40 lessons from Southwest but we have pulled out those that we have seen to have direct relevance to the mining industry and given that we see so many businesses in the small to medium end of the market attempting to become big.

 

As quoted in Spirit magazine June 2011

 

Lesson 1.

Keep the idea simple enough to draw on a napkin.

In 1966 Rollin W. King sat with his lawyer, Herb Kelleher, in San Antonio’s St. Anthony club and drew a triangle on a cocktail napkin. And lo, the napkin begat an airline. Rollin, owner of a money-losing commuter airline wanted to start an interstate carrier so the airline wouldn’t fall under the aegis of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Hence the triangle. He labelled the corners “Dallas”, “Houston” and “San Antonio” – the Golden Triangle of Texas.

 

Lesson 2.

A legend is an asset.

The napkin became a whiskey stained version of the Magna Carta. It summed up the company’s persona; informal, pragmatic and a little bit naughty. Imagine if the airline had been formed by a dozen lawyers in a Manhattan boardroom. Not the same. Here was the stuff of legend.

 

Lesson 5.

Crazy is no liability.

Not always anyway. If an idea immediately sounds good, chances are someone, probably many people, thought of it already. Rollin had no idea how to raise the capital for his new airline. “Rollin”, Herb said, “you’re crazy, lets do it!”

 

Lesson 11.

Lack of money makes you frugal.

A lesson well known to exploration companies of course but many companies that have recently completed capital raisings would be well served to continue to believe they have no cash and spend only what they absolutely need.

 

Lesson 13.

Promote from within.

Enough said!

 

Lesson 15.

Invent your own culture and put a top person in charge of it.

Colleen Barrett was Herb Kelleher’s legal secretary when Southwest got its start. She started as the corporate secretary in 1978 and rose to VP of Administration in 1986 and then became president and Chief Operating Officer in 2001. She crafted the tone and SPIRIT that defines Southwest today.

She looks more like a sweet grandmother than a corporate titan but ANYONE who acted against the Southwest way of doing business – in other words, behaved in a way that seemed less than heartfelt, were immediately set right.

Heartfelt. If one word defined Colleen and the Culture she worked to create, that’s it.

 

Lesson 20.

Simplicity has value.

In 1972 Southwest introduced a simple two-tier fare system. Regular fares were $20 to $26 and Pleasure Class fares, offered on weekends and weeknights after 7pm, were $13. The simple fare structure remains to this day with no added fees.

Simplicity extends to equipment. Remember people have to operate and maintain it. The airline chose one plane type, making training and maintenance far more cost effective.

 

Lesson 24.

It helps to have an extroverted leader.

Throughout Southwest’s history Herb earned millions of dollars of free publicity.  He turned up on television with a sack over his head “embarrassed” by the airlines cheap airfares. Another spot showed the airlines super fast turn-around times by a plane closing its door and pushing back leaving Herb behind. He pictured on the cover of Fortune (“America’s Best CEO”), turned up at company wide events wearing a straight jacket and appeared in a rap video.

 

Lesson 26.

Take your business, not yourself, seriously.

A personal sense of self deprecating humour can bring a powerful release valve to many stressful situations.

 

Lesson 27.

See your business as a cause.

Southwest’s mission is “Freedom to move about the country”. What is yours?

 

Lesson 28.

Put the worker first.

Surprisingly, Southwest is 85% unionised. Yet it has a reputation for amicable relations. It is not unusual to see a pilot help clean a plane. Southwest was the first airline to offer a profit sharing plan, in 1974! Employees now own 13% of the airline.

 

Lesson 29.

Sweat the small stuff but try not to lawyer it.

I can hear the howls from all those legal eagles out there now.

 

Lesson 31.

The web aint cool, it is just a tool.

This one is near to our hearts as recruiters. How many times have we been ‘told’ that the web would take over recruiting. What a joke. If anything it has made it even easier for people to apply to dozens of jobs at a time, putting even more value on a professional consultancy’s ability to search proactively to avoid this waste of mass processing activity.

What technology are you assuming is more ‘able’ than what it actually is. Remember everyone else has it too.

 

Lesson 40.

It’s OK to be unprofitable for a year.

 

Just be sure to be profitable for the next 39!