CEO Mxolisi Mgojo – the man behind the first-ever digital mine

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CEO Mxolisi Mgojo – the man behind the first-ever digital mine

Jan 2, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

Mxolisi Mgojo crafted a winning strategy and was announced to be the CEO-Designate of Exxaro Resources Limited in May 2015. A year later when he took over the position, he enlisted in a programme by Futureworld, an organisation that helps leaders think about designing businesses that will be disruptive in the future. They allowed him to bring in members of his team and Mxolisi roped in his Executive Committee, middle managers and the millennials at Exxaro.

Digital mine

The inclusion of these teams led to the company talking about things like Internet of Things and Robotics. Mxolisi imagined that Exxaro could build a fully digital mine and people thought he was crazy. The project to build a first-of-its-kind digital mine started at Belfast Mpumalanga in November 2017 and was handed to operations in February 2020. It was completed ahead of schedule and within the budget.

What Mxolisi required to achieve this fete was for his executives to understand and appreciate what is possible. It is a difficult thing to get a whole organisation to start thinking about a future in a way that it has never been thought about.

‘I spent time also learning and understanding companies like Osted who transitioned from fossil fuels to renewable energy,’ Mxolisi explains. ‘I am not a Formula 1 racing fan, but I looked at how Mclaren managed to transform their team. All other car makers had fast cars and great drivers but what was it about McLaren that enabled them to be so successful? I noted that what happens in the pit stop is what wins races. You could be the best driver but if you spend more time having your tyres changed during the pit stop than your competitor, you have no chance of winning.’

In the book A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business, the authors Adam Morgan and Mark Barden explain that Mclaren installed cameras to record each of the 20 people in the pit crew. Using technology, they worked on improving personal times which helped them cut pit stop time from 4 seconds to a world record 2.5 seconds. This was a transformation in the mind-set: everyone on the team now believes that it is not money, but efficiency that drives performance. The practice of micro-analysis and continual improvement has become part of Mclaren’s culture.

Technology adoption

For Exxaro, Mxolisi asked himself what is the company’s 2.5 second pitstop and looked at how they could achieve it.

‘We brought in things like robotics to handle repetitive and boring tasks. There are robots at the company doing a lot of work at odd hours. We also required our service providers like our internal auditors EY to innovate; we made it clear that they needed to adopt a digital view if they hoped to continue to service us in the future. They started reinventing themselves, so we are helping our suppliers become competitive.’

Mxolisi says he asked people what part of their jobs they don’t enjoy. Accountants complained that month end reporting took too long so he challenged them to adopt technology to cut the 14-day process by half. If you automate a bad process, you only make an inappropriate thing work faster. So, they needed to redesign their own processes and this was an exciting exercise because technology took over things that they didn’t like doing. As implementers, they run sprints over the process and developed their own solution.  People didn’t lose jobs, they instead ended up with better quality work doing the more meaningful tasks that were part of their job description.

‘I had to bring in the unions and spend days with them showing them how workforces had been impacted by this process in other companies. I helped them understand what we are trying to do to allay fears that jobs would be lost but rather we would be reskilling our labour force.  HR had to come up with a whole new learning platform to make our workforce relevant for future jobs.’

Inspiring people

For Mxolisi, leadership is about how you inspire people. When he sent out teams to learn from innovative companies internationally, they experienced best practice and came back rearing to go.

‘They were so pumped; I couldn’t hold them back!’ he says. ‘Our pay-off line is Powering Possibilities; we can power what seems impossible to make it possible. It is all about playing in the change agent space, something that I have always been comfortable doing. You cannot be complacent; you need to think ahead. Our Belfast mine for instance has an average age of under 35 years yet in a normal mine it is much higher than that because people there need at least 20 years of experience to run a traditional mine.’

In this digital age you don’t need that many years of experience because everything requiring experience can be done using analytics and artificial intelligence. Experience of the past is not going to save you. A guy at Kodak invented the digital camera and they ignored him because they were the biggest photography company who thought they knew it all.

This article is a brief extract from the book THE CEO X FACTOR – Secrets for Success from South Africa’s Top Money Makers – available here https://www.takealot.com/the-ceo-x-factor/PLID92980382

 

 

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