In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, you’ll hear from Scott Williamson, MD of Blackstone Minerals, on the CEO-Chair relationship, taking career risks, and injecting fun into business.
Scott has been the Managing Director of Blackstone Minerals for 4 and a half years, and has extensive experience in the mining & metals industry over a 20 year career.
He graduated from the West Australian School of Mines and Curtin University of Technology and also holds a WA First Class Mine Manager’s Certificate and is a member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.
In this episode we talk about:
- The cyclical nature of the mining industry and how he was often in and out of jobs;
- The role of the Chairperson and their relationship with the CEO;
- Taking risks in your career to get ahead, and then becoming a CEO for the first time;
- The fun side of business; and
- What the future holds for the mining industry.
Connecting with Scott Williamson
You can connect with Scott via LinkedIn
Books and resources
“This movement towards zero carbon is forcing us into new technologies. And they’re not just driving zero carbon, but they’re driving efficiencies and productivity that we should have been implementing 15 years ago.”
On the cyclical nature of the mining industry
- Because of the difficulty in the industry and the difficulty with that asset, I actually lost my job within about five months, so I was back on looking for a job very quickly. The mining industry unfortunately is a bit like this, that you go through these cycles and you do turn over jobs fairly quickly. So the whole almost first half of my career, I’m sort of rolling through jobs and changing it a lot of the time, not just because of the reasons within the organisations, but also personal reasons. Your life’s changing, you’re young.
- But I didn’t see these as major setbacks because I was always straight back on the horse and going again. But if we look at maybe my current role, there’s been times where we’ve also gone through those cycles and we’ve gone to points where we’re nearly running out of money and it’s really tough, particularly in junior roles where you live and die by your company’s share price.
On the Chairperson-CEO relationship
- Every two or three days we’re talking very high-level strategy. It could be a deal that we’re working on or it could be maybe an HR issue that’s come up.
- Whenever there’s a major decision to be made, the Chair is a sounding board. And I believe that’s what their role should be. It’s about guiding the CEO in those difficult decision moments, very high level strategy, and not really changing the decision, but really just supporting the decision-making.
On taking risks in your career to get ahead
- Don’t be scared to take a step back to eventually go forward quicker. Probably the defining part of my career was the move out of the mining industry into the stockbroking industry. That was a major risk because I was heading down a path and I basically stopped that career progression and started again in a completely different industry. The idea was I needed to understand more about the financial markets and a different part of my industry. It was a major risk at the time. I took a fairly significant pay cut as well. So it’s not always about the money.
- A lot of people go to university, and they say, “Oh, I’m going to do this, this, this, and this is where my career will be in 10, 20, 30 years time.” That’s probably the complete wrong way to think about it.
On becoming a CEO
- What surprised me probably the most was the level of responsibility. It sounds obvious, but it is very quickly everything and the buck starts and stops with you.
- The future of that whole organisation is completely your responsibility and you’re accountable for that. So that takes a little bit of getting used to, but I was okay with that because it’s what I was seeking in my previous roles. And thanks to my board for that, also. Some boards don’t run like that, but mine does. They give me full responsibility and accountability, and that’s how I like it.
- My leadership style is that I’m able to bring everyone in a team together to come to a common focus and move forward. I actually never really got much feedback on my technical ability as an engineer, and I was probably not so good at that part of my role, but I’ve always had an ability to be able to communicate better than your average mining engineer. That’s probably why my career moved in this leadership direction.
On building a team of experts
- What I’ve done with the current team is I’ve really just brought in people that I knew very well, and they bring in their team of people that they know well.
- I think it comes back to taking a bit of a risk as well, so not just looking at your standard resume and saying, “Does this fit?” Firstly, when we’re recruiting and interviewing, put the resume to the side. Does this person fit culturally with where we’re trying to go and what we’re trying to achieve? Then we’ll bring in the experience and the resume after that. I think culture and team fit is much higher priority for me than the resume.
- I ask, “Who are you? What’s your family situation? What are your interests outside of work? What drives you?” Just trying to get a feel for who they are personally, more so than who they are as an employee. I want to know who they are personally, what drives them, and whether those personal aspects are aligned to our team culture as well.
On the fun side of business
- I try and have a bit of a laugh. In almost every meeting there’s a laugh. Business doesn’t always have to be serious and structured and process-driven. It is just life and it shouldn’t be any different to the way you communicate at home or with your friends.
- So I try and bring a human element to it, and I think that really helps the team come out of their shell and be the leaders that they are as well. It doesn’t always have to be so serious. I think that’s what’s allowed us to attract good talent as well. They come to Blackstone because we have a good, fun environment and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
On what the future holds for the mining industry
- What’s really exciting for me is this ability for the mining industry to move into some of the downstream product opportunities. Because the mining industry has access to the raw materials, we’re in a really strong position to upskill our industry and take on some of these opportunities because it is just around technology.
- The mining industry has been fairly reluctant to take on new technologies, but I’ve seen just in the last three to five years there’s been a real shift towards taking some on. And that’s really driven by this movement towards zero carbon.
- These technologies are not just driving a move towards zero carbon, but they’re driving efficiencies and productivities that we should have been implementing 10, 15 years ago.
- We’ve always just dug up the rock and shipped it somewhere else, and then someone else got the value-add, and most of the time that has been to China. Because of the current Chinese situation, we now need to rethink the future. It’s not always driven by lower labour costs, so we can use other jurisdictions outside of China to build these downstream opportunities.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- I’d have to come back to taking risks. If you want to be at these executive levels, you need to be able to take risks and you need to be able to own the outcome of those risks and just make decisions.
- Don’t be scared of making a decision quickly as well, because if I hadn’t taken some risks, there’s no way we would be here with the organisation I’ve got at the moment.
- I’m really excited to take the next risk and take it to another level. A lot of people would potentially stop at where I am now, but I’m going to take even more risks because I’m going to make it even bigger.