Another year has passed and with it countless trips across The Nullarbor. Perhaps the only thing more predictable than the view from QF568 is the mining industry’s insistence that we are the victims of an unprecedented price crash.
While it is true that prices have come back to earth at a rate quicker than most anticipated, this should not be the focus of Diggers & Dealers. Prices are not the reason mining is performing poorly, for that we have only ourselves to blame.
Until our industry, as a collective, acknowledges the mistakes we have made in the past five years, we won’t be able to get on with the business of resolving them, or avoiding them in the future. Let’s hope Diggers & Dealers looks to the future, rather than the past.
Below are two things you shouldn’t hear at Diggers and Dealers – but almost certainly will.
1. “It’s Not Our Fault”
This line of argument reveals itself in a number of guises: commodity prices are in a “once in a lifetime downturn”, the “most depressed market in recent history”, the “end of Australia’s biggest ever resources boom”. Adjectives and superlatives will be in high demand as managers and executives aim to externalise recent under-performance.
If we abdicate responsibility for our serial under-performance “due to prices” or due to factors “out of our control” we must acknowledge the corollary: we deserved no credit for performance when prices were high, market capitalisations surged, and acquisitions outpaced almost everything but pay-packets. If we aren’t to blame for poor performance, then take no credit for high performance.
A fall in commodity prices after a mining “super cycle” is hardly a shock event. The inherent difficulty in mining is that we are exposed to price fluctuations. Anyone that wishes for stability in prices wishes to be in another industry.
Prices are out of our control, how we respond is our choice. Claiming this “isn’t our fault” does nothing but demonstrate a lack of strategic planning.
2. “Our Costs Are Too High”
We all “knew” that commodity prices would cool-off at some stage, but nobody was preparing for the day it arrived. The focus was squarely on chasing the marginal tonne, with a near disregard for costs of production. This has led to cost structures that are rigid and inflexible, restricting the ability of organisations to respond quickly to a changing market. Agile organisations are best placed to navigate the cycle – a bear market is always more savage than a bull market is benign.
The advice of investors and analysts only exacerbated this problem through a continued push to expand, often at the expense of the organisations core competencies. When the dust settled and prices came back to earth, organisations were bloated, incapable of articulating a strategy and left with assets that in many cases they didn’t fully understand.
A Progressive Agenda for Diggers & Dealers
The downturn presents a wonderful opportunity to innovate – the stakes have never been higher – and this should be the focus of the event this year. How do we innovate? How do we learn from our mistakes? How do we create agile organisations that thrive in a fluctuating market?
What are the opportunities in the market? How do we collectively innovative for the benefit of all?
Necessity is the catalyst for innovation and in the last quarter century the necessity has never been greater.