CFO Boipelo Lekubo – Blazing a trail for women in mining

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CFO Boipelo Lekubo – Blazing a trail for women in mining

Dec 29, 2023 | Interviews

When Boipelo Lekubo joined Harmony Gold Company Limited as a CFO in June 2017, she was head-hunted for the position. She would work under Financial Director Frank Abbott. ‘What won me over was the opportunity to be mentored by Abbott, who is a seasoned financial leader in the gold mining industry.’

Bigger operations

Boipelo’s previous three stations averaged approximately 5 000 employees. By contrast, Harmony has over 40 000 staff members. The ten different operations at Harmony are also significantly higher than the two operations at Atlatsa and one operation at Northam. There is also a multijurisdictional aspect to the job since as Harmony has an operation in Papua New Guinea.

Her three years at Harmony have been very eventful. ‘In 2018, we concluded the USD300 million acquisition of the Moab Khotsong mine from AngloGold Ashanti. Two years later, we have just acquired the last of AngloGold’s South African assets, Mponeng and Mine Waste Solution for USD200 million cash plus contingent consideration. The recapitalising of our Papua New Guinea mine was another very engaging activity in addition to capital raising and debt refinancing. There has been a lot going on, but I must say I have also had fun in the process.’

Other than assisting with the accounting for the transactions, Boipelo was involved in review of documents, integration of IT systems and merging of teams.

In January 2020, Harmony announced that Abbott will be taking up the position of Executive Director responsible for Business Development. Boipelo’s appointment to replace him as Group Financial Director coincided with the declaration of a National State of Disaster due to the onset of the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa. ‘The pandemic has come with its challenges for my role and for our business. For instance, the capital raise we undertook in April was done under lockdown conditions where we had to rely on Microsoft Teams to interact with the various parties.

Challenges

She also explains that a mine cannot simply be switched off completely due to the high cost  of restarting it. ‘Essential staff had to continue working and fortunately, with the support of the Department of Mineral Resources we were able to continue operating at 50% after the lockdown.’

An additional blessing for Harmony was that the gold price increased as the mineral is seen as a safe investment during times of uncertainty. This enabled the Group to break even during the lockdown period.

Being the CFO of a mining concern brings unique challenges. Gold mining companies are price takers. A ten-character tweet from Donald Trump in the middle of the night can have a significant impact on the price of their product and therefore their amount of revenue.

‘As a result, a CFO’s work largely focuses on managing expenses. We take other measures to protect our margins such as hedging. An additional issue we face is safety because we operate at a deep underground level where seismicity is a key issue. Safety is also a human behaviour matter; we have to worry about the steps 40 000 people are taking to protect themselves and others.’

Unconscious bias

As one of the youngest black female financial directors on the JSE, Boipelo has had to deal with prejudice. ‘There is frequently an unconscious bias in the workplace. Even if people may not say it out loud, you would sense it,’ she says.

‘But I think given my track record, it is clear that I am not a token appointment. My experience speaks for itself and in my dealings with people, they quickly come to the realisation that I know what I am talking about. I hasten to add that at Harmony, transformation is a board agenda, so it is driven from the very top which has made it easier for me to settle into my role knowing that I am supported by the highest organ of the Group.’

It is also not easy being the Financial Director of a top JSE-listed company while at the same time doing your best to be a mother to a pre-teen daughter. Thankfully Boipelo has a lot of domestic support which is helpful during busy periods and when she has to travel.

‘We make the most of the time that we are together, and she is now at an age where she understands mommy may not be able to pick her from school every single day.’

Management style

Asked how she would describe her management style, Boipelo calls it ‘situational and inclusive’. ‘I don’t believe you can lead or manage in a blanket approach because people are different,’ she says.

‘You must be able to read people. On one day you sense an employee is emotionally down and so you assign an outstanding task to someone else who can cope with it that day. In addition, you need to bring your people along with you; they need to understand what the end goal is. If they understand where you are going, managing them becomes much easier.’

In November 2020, Boipelo was listed as one of the 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining by volunteer non-profit organisation Women in Mining UK. Receiving the award, was a humbling experience, she says, but also one of the proudest moments in her career thus far.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Masters of Money – Strategies for Success from the CFOs of South Africa’s Biggest Companies’ available here – https://www.takealot.com/masters-of-money/PLID90121297?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAiAyp-sBhBSEiwAWWzTnmLGsW3EWthrsEzrN69lcPhFqkxkQjPsxSF6CHoP2oj6-XRBtDB5gBoCfA8QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

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