Chuck Jeannes: Leading by example

08 Jun 2015

Chuck Jeannes: Leading by example

President and CEO of Goldcorp, talks about being prepared to take risks, ‘putting the elephant on the table’ and changing perceptions of the mining industry

For some time I had thought that I’d love to find an opportunity to run a gold mining company, I just never dreamed it would be the largest senior gold mining company [by market capitalisation] in the world,” says Chuck Jeannes, President and CEO of Goldcorp.

In Jeannes’ case, reaching that position involved a combination of dedication mixed with an uncanny ability to take calculated risks, or as he modestly puts it “a great deal of hard work, but also a lot of good luck and opportunities that became available at the right time”.

Born and raised in Nevada, he practised law until in 1995 his client Placer Dome, a large mining company headquartered in Vancouver, offered him the opportunity to leave the legal sector and move into what he describes as “more of a general management position”. That position was Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary in the North America region.

It was a move that even today he describes as a big risk involving a large pay cut. “If you’re not willing to take risks you’re not going to be successful in business,” he reaffirms. A point that he proved again just four years later by leaving Placer Dome for Nevada-based Glamis Gold.

Glamis was a small, newly established business during a period when gold prices were plunging below $300 per ounce following a steady decline since the 1980s. “Chuck’s first assignment was to save Glamis’ New York Stock Exchange listing because our share price was touching $1,” says the then CEO of Glamis, Kevin McArthur. “In the next seven-year period he was instrumental in four mergers. We built five mines… and our share price went from $1 to $56.”

“The gold industry is tough,” says Jeannes “You have to be strong enough to compete in other ways. I realised that you’re competing for assets and people as much as anything else, so the way you structure your business is vital if  you are to be successful.”

Structure and a strong, focused strategy is what Jeannes has given Goldcorp. Under his direction, the company has grown into a highly successful gold producer, with mines in Canada, Mexico and Central and South America and a market capitalisation of more than $23 billion. It is strong testimony to his ability as a leader.

“It’s very easy to list all of the typical points you’d see in a business book,” he says, “but to me there are certain things that are absolutely fundamental to being a good leader. First and foremost is to always lead by example.

“I’ll never ask anyone to operate in a way that I don’t. Whether it’s working hard, acting ethically, treating people with respect or working with open and frank communication, you cannot reasonably ask others to do any of them if they don’t see you doing them as well.”

It is an open and honest approach to business that he encourages throughout Goldcorp, extending to weekly meetings for ‘putting the elephant on the table’. “It’s absolutely vital to have a transparent environment in a business in order to be successful,” he says.

“Lack of communication stifles success and hinders improvement so I try very hard to create a setting where people are comfortable putting their grievances on the table. The fact that we get those issues out, discuss them and resolve them has had a lot to do with our success.”

But success doesn’t just come from communication. Since being CEO of Goldcorp Jeannes has followed a dedicated strategy of growth through acquisitions funded by the sale of non-core assets. He often says that he wants Goldcorp to be the best company not the biggest, and is not afraid to lose underperforming assets. This has enabled the business to finance further growth without taking on additional debt.

However, Jeannes believes that production of gold may have hit its high point as easy-to-mine deposits become harder to find. “We’re going to see, in my view, ‘peak gold’ very soon,” he says. “Whether it is this year or next year, I don’t think we will ever see gold production reach these levels again. There are just not that many new mines being found and developed.”

Nevertheless, he is devoted to the ongoing success of the sector. He is a member of the board of trustees of the International Council on Mining and Metals, and a director of the World Gold Council and the US National Mining Association.

“It’s a 24-hour job that you’re never fully away from, but it’s really important to still find time to do things that keep you fresh,” he adds. Getting away involves staying active. At the time of speaking he had recently returned from a fly-fishing trip to the Bahamas. “I have my own boat, which I love to take out into the middle of nowhere and get away from everything for a while. It allows me to come back refreshed and ready to go again.”

For Goldcorp he highlights “people as one of our core strategies. Once you’ve identified that as being important to the success of your business you have to find the best way of getting those individuals.”
This means working with universities and institutes, and participating in Odgers Berndtson’s CEO x 1 Day Programme. This matches students with CEOs for a day to shadow them and apply learned skills to a real-world situation. For CEOs it is an opportunity to nurture promising future talent.

“Quite simply, I want to attract the best and brightest that is out there,” he says. “I don’t want them to go and work for Apple, I want them to come and work for Goldcorp. And if I can participate in something where I may change perceptions, encourage the next generation of leaders and gain us some positive feedback then that is very important to me.”

Changing perceptions is important for the mining sector, which Jeannes says “is still viewed as an old or dirty industry, which isn’t true.” He also wants to challenge another common misconception of mining being traditionally male dominated, hence the creation of ‘Creating Choices’, Goldcorp’s company-wide development and mentorship programme for women.

It’s of particular importance in some of the regions in Goldcorp’s portfolio, such as Latin America, where Jeannes says “women would never dream of moving up in an organisation given the societal and industry norms that they’re used to. We want to break those norms and say that if you want to receive training, career development and support then we will provide it and you will advance. It just makes absolutely no business sense to ignore half of the population.

“We’re very proud of the programme and of the 1,400 women who have passed through it, and we’ve seen absolute results,” he continues. “Many women have progressed in the organisation in ways that I don’t think they would have without ‘Creating Choices’. We have two women on our board and I’ve committed to adding more by 2017. I’m also encouraging some of our senior female executives to serve on other boards. There’s a big gap out there and a real lack of talented women on mining industry boards, and we’re never going to fill that gap if guys like me don’t try and change that.”

According to Jeannes it is “about changing the industry’s view”, and includes simple points such as making it mandatory that a head-hunter provides women candidates when recruiting for a new position.

So just what does he look for when hiring for Goldcorp? Perhaps unsurprisingly, he says “it all goes back to open communication. When I interview I want really good honest, fulsome and frank answers, not the canned replies you so often expect in interviews. In order to do that, I often ask questions they would never have planned for, something off the wall.”

His favourite interview ‘curveball’ is asking the candidate what they are bad at. “They’re never prepared for it and you can really tell if they’re being honest,” he says. “I’ll always be immediately suspicious of anyone that says they can’t think of anything they’re bad at, as nobody is great at everything. Simple things like that can give you so much more information about someone.”

Indeed, Jeannes says that you have to be critical to be perfect. “Being a leader is to exist in a goldfish bowl,” he says. “Every aspect of how you conduct yourself and what you achieve is visible.” To date his conduct and achievement have earned Goldcorp the position of the world’s top senior gold producer by market capitalisation, so it would be hard to understand what he is bad at.