Eliphus takes a leap up the career ladder

27th May 2005 By: abdul cook

Eliphus Monkoe worked wonders for Sasol Mining. He was part of the leadership team that won Sasol Mining the World Coal Company of the Year award two years ago.

Now he wants to introduce the same success as COO of Ingwe Collieries, BHP Billiton’s wholly-owned energy-coal business in South Africa.

In this position, which he assumed on April 1, he is responsible for the performance of five collieries: Middelburg, Optimum, Douglas, Khutala and Koornfontein, which collectively produce 54-million tons a year.

Transformation of the workforce is uppermost on his mind and he and his team are hard at work to find ways and means of transforming and growing Ingwe.

He is confident that the productivity of Ingwe’s 7 500 employees will become world-class and bring performance to the level of the world’s best.

The benchmarking exercise that Ingwe has embarked upon is being consolidated under his leadership and he foresees the group’s largest coal company becoming a global frontrunner before long.

He recalls the ‘burning platform’ that Sasol Mining was on when he joined, its wrong-directional bottom-line figures forcing the company to come up with a turnaround strategy.

By involving every single employee, Sasol Mining ultimately achieved not only turnaround, but global leadership.

With Ingwe now in a similar plight, he is intent on leadership becoming totally immersed in turnaround action.

He is a great believer in management-by-walk-about, in order to identify and then solve coalface issues quickly.

“You don’t say ‘I’ll come back to you tomorrow’. If there is an issue, make sure that you don’t knock off until you have provided the answer,” he tells Mining Weekly in an exclusive interview in Ingwe’s corporate offices in Hollard Street, Johannesburg.

His management style is ‘open-door’ and motivational. “We must have a team of people who ensure that if there is an issue in the company, they must not hesitate to bring it forward and talk about it,” says Monkoe.

“Employees must know that they will receive an immediate response and that they can then put the problem behind them and continue to work effectively,” he adds.

“I have adopted the policy that if an employee – no matter where he may be – has a problem and by the next day it is not resolved, it must be reported to me, so that I can handle it personally,” he says.

“People deserve feedback if problems arise,” he adds.

When Monkoe began the turnaround process at Sasol Mining’s flagship Brandspruit mine, its output was 800 t shift/machine.

Through the implementation of the initial renewal process, that output was more than doubled in 18 months to 1 700 t/shift/machine and then taken further through a second initiative to 2 000 t/shift/machine.

On being promoted later to operations manager of Sasol Mining’s Syferfontein operation, he oversaw the doubling of performance still further to 4 000 t/shift/machine in certain sections of that dual opencast-underground operation.

But his Ingwe challenge will be the reverse in that Sasol Mining’s operations are overwhelmingly underground mines, while Ingwe’s are overwhelmingly opencast.

Even at Ingwe’s Douglas and Khutala, which are mainly underground operations, there is truck-and-shovel opencast mining.

While the bulk of underground mines at Sasol use continuous miners and a minority draglines, the mix is reversed at Ingwe, where most mining is by dragline and truck and shovel and the minority by the continuous-miner method.

Overseas exposure
Under the Ingwe recovery plan, many Ingwe personnel have been given operational exposure to best dragline practice in countries like Australia, and Monkoe is confident that many now have the wherewithal to ensure that there is optimum dragline performance at Ingwe’s mines.

As all who are familiar with draglines know, fine precision has to be exercised to get the best out of the colossal machines, as the slightest dragline swing is critical to performance.

It is therefore essential to reduce swings, thereby increasing their efficiencies.

At Optimum, where recovery emphasis is currently most intense, there are nine draglines and, at Middelburg, seven.
Literacy levels
Monkoe has been impressed by literacy levels at Ingwe, where he finds that 64% of wage earners have level-four adult basic education and training (Abet), which, he says, is above the current industry average.

However, he would like to lift the Abet-four percentage still further.

An effort is also being made at operational level to advance the employment-equity percentage beyond the current 26%.

“Higher targets have been set and we believe we will achieve those,” he says.

In terms of Ingwe’s classification injury rate, the company is not satisfied at its current level and is looking at ways of reducing it.

“We have specific targets within our protocols at BHP Billiton and we are not there yet,” says Monkoe.

The company has put in place various methodologies to tackle the situation, one being that of behavioural safety technology (BST). Ingwe is using BST in order to try to tackle behavioural related issues (BRI) as far as safety is concerned.

“The core issue, though, is to address BRI among our employees, and try to inculcate zero-tolerance in them,” says Monkoe.

“This will assist the company in correc-ting individuals in a constructive way, thereby ensuring that that individual will not make the same mistake twice,” he adds. Regarding hostel accommodation and family issues, the Khutala area hostel facilities accommodate about 3 000 people, allowing families to live together.

Monkoe explains that another interesting factor is that Ingwe encourages its employees to buy their own homes, and about 85% of its employees reside with their families in the surrounding areas.

“The result is a normalised lifestyle which has a direct impact on increased production,” he adds.

Although Ingwe encourages family living, it is up to the individual to decide where and how he wishes to live.

Drawing on his Syferfontein experience, he is also confident of attaining gender-equity imperatives.

Before leaving Syferfontein, he went into the surrounding towns and advertised for women operators, with excellent results.

Wanting only 40 women miners, applications for more than a thousand aspirants were received.

“Many say it is difficult to attract women to mining, but it can be done,” Monkoe insists.
Ten languages
That Monkoe is able to expess himself and have conversations in ten languages is improving communication between workers and managers.

“It is an added advantage when talking to employees around personal and social issues,” Monkoe finds.

The languages at Ingwe are mixed, Southern Sotho being predominant at some mines and Zulu at others, but even if miners choose to speak in Russian, Monkoe will be able to respond with considerable aplomb.

When it is discovered that he understands Russian, many ask where he learnt to speak it, which goes back to South Africa’s struggle days of the Seventies.

During the 1976 Soweto uprising, Monkoe became one of the many victims of school closure. “I went to pay a visit to my uncle in Botswana, and during my stay, I interacted with the local youth.

“During those chats, I was told of opportunities that the United Nations was offering to students.

“I took advantage and two months later, I was in Nigeria doing A levels,” he recalls, the UN’s Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee having taken him under its wing.

On getting his A levels in Nigeria in 1978, he was told he could study engineering in Canada, Russia or China, and he applied to all three.

At the time, getting into Canada was a mission and China did not reply.

Though haunted by the image of the Iron Curtain, he soon found himself enjoying the discos of Moscow and no longer needing an interpreter.

“After studying for about two months in Russia, I became a jolly happy Eliphus,” he recalls.

He was, however, called upon to redo his A levels in Russian and thereafter chose mining engineering as his tertiary pursuit, gaining early practical experience at mines in Siberia as part of his vocational training.

By 1985, the towering Monkoe, who stands 1,88 m tall, had completed an MSc in mining engineering.

Then he worked as a site manager for the Norwegian mining company Norplan, which was involved in project management of new quarries being developed in East Africa.

He was hankering for a role within mainstream mining, but found it inappropriate to return to South Africa because of the prevailing attitude to exiles with contacts in the then Soviet Union.

In 1989 he applied to many large Southern African mining companies and was eventually employed by the gold division of Lonrho Zimbabwe, in Nvuma, rising to the position of mine overseer.

In 1991, when it was clear that some of the hostile attitudes of the past were no longer prevalent, he applied to several South African mining companies and received a quick response from AngloCoal, where he had to start all over again as a trainee, rising to miner, shift boss, mine overseer, section manager and production manager.

In January 1998, Sasol persuaded him to join the company as a manager safety, health and environment, where great strides were made under his leadership.

In March 1999, he was appointed mine manager of Sasol’s Brandspruit colliery and, in August 2002, was promoted to the position of operations manager responsible for the Sigma complex in Sasolburg and the Syferfontein operation in Secunda.

He now holds his highest title yet – COO – having walked a long road of personal transformation from his days as a youth in Pretoria, where he attended Tshwarisasang primary school and then high school at Pankop, near Hammanskraal.

He is deeply committed to the tenets of the new mining charter and is looking forward to transforming Ingwe into a star performer for BHP Billiton, the world’s largest diversified resources company.

Full name: Eliphus Oki Monkoe
Position: Chief operating officer, Ingwe Collieries, since April 1, 2005
Main activity of the company: Coal-mining
Date and place of birth: October 10, 1959, Lady Selbourne, Pretoria
Education: MSc (Mining), Friendship University, Moscow, 1985
First job: Site engineer, East Africa, Norplan
Size of first pay packet: R500 a month
First job with present group: Chief Operating Officer
Number of people under your leadership: 8 500
Management style: Open door
Personal best achievement: Turning continu-ous-miner sections into star performers
Professional best achievement: Setting new productivity frontiers in midwall mining
Person who has had the biggest influence on your life: Sam Monkoe, my uncle
Person who has had the biggest influence on your career: Jannie van der Westhuizen
Person who you would most like to meet: Nelson Mandela
Businessperson who has impressed you most: Jack Welch
Philosophy of life: Think of problems as poten-tial teachers
Biggest ever opportunity: Appointment as mine manager, Brandspruit Colliery, 1999
Biggest ever disappointment: Still waiting for biggest disappointment
Hope for the future: Seeing local companies setting new frontiers globally
Favourite reading: Eliyahu Goldratt
Favourite TV programme: National Geographic
Favourite food/drink: Potatoes/roast pork
Favourite music: Jazz, classical
Favourite sport: Soccer, tennis, rugby
Favourite website: None
Hobbies: Soccer, running, reading
Car: Mercedes ML
Pets: None
Miscellaneous dislikes: None
Favourite other South African company: SA Breweries
Favourite foreign company: GEC
Married: Olaah Pentley, April 7, 1992
Children: Lisa, 18; Sam, 10; Anthony, 6; Oki, 5
Clubs: None