Meet the natural resources industry’s most respected headhunter.
Veteran mining CEO headhunter Bill Haldane has used “Diogenes” — the Greek philosopher who reportedly carried a lamp through Athens during broad daylight, looking for an honest man — as a moniker for over 20 years.
“Diogenes was an honest, down-to-earth man, and I have tried to practice his simple virtues throughout my career in the mining industry,” the affable Irishman tells me by phone from his New York office. “I don’t believe in sweeping things under the carpet.”
Bill made a name for himself early in his career, in the late ‘80s, when brash billionaire corporate raider Sir Jimmy Goldsmith sacked the management team at Newmont Mining and tapped Haldane as his headhunter.
“I flew to London to meet with him and get the brief for the Newmont CEO search,” Bill says. And it wasn’t long before he showed his characteristic skill: “I ended up putting the whole Newmont management team together,” he says, “and they went on to have a pretty good run, considering the headwind the gold industry faced in those days.”
“There was virtually no competition for me back then, and I was able to take advantage of that,” Haldane recalls. In the 25 years since, Bill has placed presidents and CEOs with the likes of Barrick, Newmont, Placer Dome, and Ivanhoe Mines, to name a few. It is fair to say he has done more CEO search work in the mining space than anyone in the world.
I connected with Bill this week to get his take on the current state of the resources sector. As expected, Bill made our conversation mining market intelligence at its best.
“As you know, the market is flat on its back, but that’ll turn around.” Haldane tells me, “I’ve seen more cycles than a bike shop.” Money flowing into our sector in the near future is likely to come from Europe and Asia, Bill says. “London’s the place to be today if you’re in mining finance.”
“And there is a great deal of capital available,” he says. “But you need a much better story than you did before — investors are smarter. Great management is necessary; management that deals with investors in a straightforward manner.”
Bill is concerned with the industry’s emphasis on quarterly reporting. Public mining companies often direct too much attention to pleasing “unpleasable” analysts and bankers when they should be managing project costs. CEOs must think “longer term and stop doing so many roadshows.”
Dramatizing quarterly results and taking them to Twitter are, frankly, not what Bill considers important leadership tactics for CEOs. In fact, Haldane makes it a point to not reply to emails on his phone — which I give him grief for — although, he says, he does read them and usually replies within 12 hours.
But Bill has a point. “You should have time to think,” he says. “Being constantly assailed with messages — email, phone or text — is a dangerous thing. You need time to reflect on what you’re doing, to reflect on your candidate brief, to reflect on all the issues. I’m someone who takes a more considered response.”
Bill now works with Odgers Berndtson and thinks the younger consultants at Odgers are better suited to texting, Tweeting, Facebook sharing, Linkedin, etc. Where Bill focuses on the CEO role, his colleagues help build out complete management teams.
“In the age of LinkedIn, why are headhunters necessary?” I ask Bill.
“Mining is a small industry,” he responds. “but there are people out there whom you may never have met. And you have to go through due process, which means doing a professional search. Headhunters also give a company the opportunity to get to know a candidate without it seeming like they’re poaching them. I can make a phone call before a client even exposes their identity.”
The network Bill’s built over 25 years is his biggest strength. “I know the folks in our industry well. I know what their peers think of them, who the good ones are, and the bad. And if I don’t, one of my old friends does. The natural resources industry is tough enough, so you have to get the human resources right.”
“You’re effectively a promoter of these companies, in the sense that you promote them to prospective CEOs, right?” I ask Bill. “Does that ever present any problems?”
“If I take on some business, I do become an advocate of the companies,” he says. “That’s why I don’t do business with everybody. I know I’m not going to be able to tell every story in a compelling way.”
“Does the board have integrity? Does it have skin in the game? What’s the VP exploration’s record, and what’s the calibre of the management team?” There’s wisdom in Bill’s client criteria that you can apply as an investor as well.
When I ask Bill what truly makes a great mining CEO, he tells me that it’s hands down, the ability to build a winning team. “That’s how Odgers works — we understand leadership and we build great teams who do things properly, over the long term.”
“If you look at our industry, Pierre Lassonde, Chuck Jeannes, your friend Nolan [Watson], it’s remarkable, they have the guts and the imagination, they build great teams, and more importantly, they can create magic for shareholders. Don’t give up on our industry just yet.”
And when I ask Bill why he never became a full fledged mining promoter himself, he responds, “The Diogenes in me — I’m not diplomatic enough for the role.”
Thanks for the interview Bill.