CRU boss

Experience forges insight for Phil Newman, CEO of CRU Strategies

By Correy Baldwin

Left: Phil Newman, CEO of CRU Strategies. Right, above: as a mountain biker, Newman frequently finds himself in unusual places; Right, below: Newman has a flair for leadership | Courtesy of Phil Newman

With a clear grasp of the complexities of global commodity economics, Phil Newman, CEO of CRU Strategies, has made a name for himself as a confident, independent thinker. Whether mountain biking through rugged terrain or leading a team of hardworking analysts, Newman forges ahead with a determined work ethic. He is a leader with a clear vision and high standards, and a healthy streak of optimism. Newman began his career as a mining engineer, but he harnessed his passion for the minerals and metals markets, and now heads up one of the world’s premier consultancies in that sphere. He chaired two panel discussions at the latest Mining Business Risk Summit in Toronto, and will be speaking at Mines and Money London in December.

CIM: What is going on in the industry that has got your attention these days?

Newman: One of the things I’m quite passionate about, being an engineer who follows the markets, rather than an economist who follows the industry, is the belief that in the next decade we are going to see some significant technological breakthroughs. With demand growth slowing, a lot of the mining companies that succeed are going to be the ones that embrace more innovation, have invested heavily in R&D or have good partnerships with innovative suppliers.

Mining companies will want to increase their revenues and their margins, and they’ll do that more by decreasing their costs than by increasing their volumes. And to really cut costs, I think there will be technological breakthroughs. So I think it’s an exciting time if you are in the technological businesses.

The mining industry has a much different demographic now compared to when the boom started. The industry has attracted different people, and many of those are younger, more energetic and more creative. It has been a pretty darn sexy industry to be in for the last eight years and has attracted people from other backgrounds and other businesses.

CIM: We are seeing another shift as well. Managerial positions are being filled by people with business degrees, rather than engineering degrees. What impact do you think this will have?

Newman: I would estimate that there are not as many people with the 10 to 20 years of technical experience as there were a generation ago.

I think it is great that the mining industry is attracting new blood; it needs people for sure, but there may be a warning sticker needed here. One of my senior colleagues, who is a very esteemed mineral economist with 40-plus years of experience, has often bemoaned the lack of basic economics understanding and commercial skills of many mining company executives. Will he now bemoan the lack of technical understanding of the mining industry by the new breed of mining executives? Let’s see if the new breed of managers, if such a thing exists, can think of more imaginative ways to combat weakening prices than increasing production – historically the first line of defence to improve margins.

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