Today we present you with the interview of former TanzaniteOne and Gemfields’ CEO: Mr. Ian Harebottle.
Ian has devoted his career to managing large scale mining operations and, to the best of what we can see from a stock and market positioning stand point, has done so very successfully!
Today, Ian is here to tell us more about his career, how he started and what he’s up to years after leaving the ruby giant!
Without any further delay, we give you Ian Harebottle!
Introducing Ian Harebottle - Photo Credits: Professional Jeweller and ITP
AsiaLounges: First of all, I would like to thank you Ian for taking the time off of your schedule to answer our questions today. Can you tell us more about you? Who are you Ian Harebottle?
Ian Harebottle: Well naturally, ‘I’m me’ (big smile) and if you have ever googled my name you would have noticed, perhaps thankfully, that there is only one of me (even bigger smile).
Honestly though, I don’t think your readers have the time, or that you have sufficient pages in Asia Lounges, to hear the whole story. But if you need to distil it down to a few sentences I believe I’m an entrepreneur, risk taker and disrupter at heart, and someone who has been passionate about the gemstone industry since a very young age. My dad being a diamond cutter in Johannesburg back in the day and while I see nothing wrong with diamonds, my naturally colourful personality, along with the allure, history and rarity of coloured gems, meant that the latter have always held a more special place in my heart.
Other than that, I now live in the UK, have a wonderful wife, to whom I have been married for the past 32 years and two fantastic sons, Mathew and Daniel, who thankfully also live in the UK together with their wonderful girlfriends, as there are few things more important to me than family.
Ian and Marcelo Souza on site at the kagem mine in Zambia – Photo Credits: Robert Gessner
AsiaLounges: Some of us know you for your work at Gemsfields, others for TanzaniteOne but few know how you came to the gem trade? Could you tell us more about that? How and why did you decide to enter our merry trade?
Ian Harebottle: After finishing high school, two years military service (which was compulsory in South Africa at that time), undergraduate studies at university, opening a fashion retail franchise and sitting for my MBA with Henley Management college, I had established a Strategic Management Consultancy in Johannesburg in the early 90’s assisting companies to cope with rapid change in their operating environments.
I was working with several leading global mining firms at that time and was asked to talk at an international mining conference in early 2001. This was when I first met Ms Joann Smollan, who later introduced me to Mike Nunn, the CEO of a JHB listed mining company (AFGEM, which later became TanzaniteOne when we moved the listing to London) and I was invited to visit their tanzanite mine in Merelani, Tanzania.
During the visit, I was well and truly ‘bitten’ by the rare and exceptional bug that is coloured gemstones and I fell in love with the country, its people, the project, and tanzanite. I joined the company as COO in June of that year. Eventually moving my family to Arusha, where we lived for 6 years, loving every minute of our time in Tanzania (such a fantastic place to bring up two young boys, with all its open space and incredible potential), and the rest as they say, is history.
Kucuk Camlik Tepe - Milenyums bauxite (non- refined aluminium for short) production site - Photo Credits: Milenyum Mining
AsiaLounges: Before heading back into your past, I’d like to ask you more about what you do today? I understand you are a director for All Star Minerals (ASM for short), a company that is rather prominent in Malawi, what do they do there exactly?
Ian Harebottle: After leaving Gemfields in June of 2017, Mike Nunn (ex-TanzaniteOne) asked me to come and help him with the phosphate mining company he had established. As was the case with each of AFGEM, TanzaniteOne and Gemfields, there were numerous challenges to overcome, and I am once again very proud of what we were able to do with the company in such a short time. But phosphate mining certainly lacks the excitement and allure of coloured gemstones and so after achieving several key targets, it was time for me to move on.
In March of this year I set up a new Mining Consultancy firm, Harebottle & Associates, focusing on assisting the smaller owner/operator mining firms improve the competitiveness and compliance elements of their business. Thankfully, things have gone quite well to date and despite the prevailing Covid-19 madness I have managed to bring a number of Companies on board, across a broad range of resources and in various global jurisdiction.
All Star Minerals is just one of these, but as a mining investment platform we have been presented with several fairly exciting opportunities. It is still early days, but we have started the groundwork on a few projects, and we should hopefully be in a place to provide the market with more detailed updates in due course.
AsiaLounges: Further to the last question, rumour in the trade has it, that ASM is assembling a managerial dream team in order to land a third power in the coloured gem world in order to compete with companies like Fura or Gemfields. What is ASM's position on the topic?
Ian Harebottle: (Massive smile) That is so nice of you to say, and I’m honestly very proud of the exceptional skills pool that we have at our disposal, both within the Company and within the market, and via the numerous contacts we have built up over the years. Naturally, we are all ambitious and would love to achieve considerable success in time. But I have always preferred to under-promise and over-deliver, so with a bit of luck, and lots of hard work, time will tell.
Naturally, the biggest challenge will be finding the right resource, which is never easy, but also not impossible.
Here are Ian Harebottle, Adrian Banks, Zane Swanepoel and Bernard Olivier taking the pose at TanzaniteOne mine site - Photo Credits: TanzaniteOne
AsiaLounges: As you probably know, in the last two years or so, the hot topic in the trade was ethical sourcing, sustainability and transparency. Now, while we all agree that transparency and ethics are a necessity, as we have seen with the answers from our other interviews, these words have seldom been properly defined and, some would claim that it is more of a marketing move than anything else while others would go so far as to call it NeoColonialism. What is your take on it? Where do you stand on that particular topic?
Ian Harebottle: Don’t get me started on NeoColonialism as my blood boils when I think of what we went through in Gemfields trying to acquire an asset in Colombia, not to mention the issues we had in Kropz trying to open a bank account in the UK, just because we owned a mining asset in Congo, Brazzaville. In my book, many of the prevailing global systems are designed to do just that – make people feel good about things, while 100% preventing proper development in Countries that are desperate for growth and transformation. But that is another story...
With regards to ethics and sustainability, and while I have always been a big fan of the same, and have always tried to ensure that we were leaders in the field, I have to be honest and say that no matter how much good we did, there was always so much more the we could have done.
Besides these being the right things to do, today’s consumer is increasingly concerned about the environment, transparency, traceability, sustainability and everything else that goes with it. Thankfully, I don’t see this changing anytime soon, and just as it is with Covid, this too presents a “new normal”.
Sadly, while smaller operators, and especially those who are producing smaller volumes of gems, distributed to a select downstream client base, are often better suited than most to leverage this opportunity, they are so often the ones who find every excuse not to comply, and its left up to the larger firms to lead the way. But with ASM, Milenyum, and the other Companies I’m currently working with, I’m hoping to change things up (a lot) and to start leading from the bottom up.
With all of the modern technology available, and with so many bright young minds out there, we should have no excuses, and we as a sector should constantly be looking to improve our positioning and compliance, or I’m afraid we will wake up one day and it could be too late and we would have been left behind. Considering the rare and incredible gems we have been blessed to work with, this would be a real travesty if it ever happened. As I always say, God took billions of years to make every gem perfectly right, so should we not make every effort to treat every gem, throughout the value chain, with the same level of care and respect.
Milenyum's Csarite mining site - Photo Credits: Milenyum Mining
AsiaLounges: As you have seen both during your tenure as Gemfields CEO and after, before as well probably, large mining operations tend to attract a lot of attention from Human Rights and Consumers Associations alike. Is the very nature of these companies problematic or is it their environment that put them in the cross-hair? Gemfields for example does not, to my knowledge, have much issues in Zambia but the same certainly can’t be said in Mozambique. Why is that?
Ian Harebottle: Yes, by their very nature I guess large Companies are always “in the cross-hairs” as you say. Sometimes just because they are bigger and tend to attract more attention in general, but sadly, this is also often for all the wrong reasons, with parties that have no interest or inclination for ethics or sustainability wanting to point fingers, with their only intention being to undo all and any good that any of the larger firms are doing. There are numerous examples of what I am talking about across the globe and throughout the larger mining industry as a whole, so this is certainly not only true for Gemfields and/or Mozambique. And naturally, no matter how hard one tries, there are always weak links, which can cause issues, irrespective of how hard management tries to do things right.
I have no issue with the Human Rights and Consumer organisations doing their job, as it keeps big industry on its toes and motivates constant improvement, which is always a good thing. But what I do have an issue with is when they sometimes seem to prefer to focus on the issues that will get them attention, while simply ignoring the many smaller issue, which can collectively equate to a far bigger problem overall. But I guess this is life, and I’m not overly worried about that part, as my core motivation has always been to do the right things, simply because they are ‘right’.
Ian and the Mulla brothers, and a friend on site at a prospect in Tanzania - Photo Credits: Ian Harebottle
AsiaLounges: A lighter question to brighten the mood. The vast majority of South African citizens I know in the trade are involved in mining. Are you guys the human equivalent of the "Dwarves" of legend or is there another reason for South Africans to be predominantly sturdy underground dwellers?
Ian Harebottle: Hahahahaha Have you seen our rugby team, or met any South Africa miners of late? I’m not sure if “Dwarf” is quite the right word, but I get what you mean.
For a long time, mining and mineral resources formed a significant part of the South African economy, and we were leaders in the field for a great many years. So, I guess this is a key reason why. But sadly, I am not sure if South Africa, or any of its mining firms (Anglo America, DeBeers, etc) can still call themselves global leaders. I fear we have fallen behind over the past few years.
AsiaLounges: Out of all the gems you have had the pleasure to work with in your career, which one is your favourite and why?
Ian Harebottle: Hmmmm this really is a tough question to ask, a little like asking a father which is his favourite Son. But the truth is that I honestly love all gems, including diamonds, which I have always said ‘make great accents to gems of true value and rarity (lol)’.
I find the beauty and rarity of all coloured gemstones especially intriguing, not to mention all of the exceptionally unique geological circumstances that have to come together just right, at a single junction in space and time, for them to be formed – true miracles of nature.
But to answer your question more directly, tanzanite was a favourite of mine for many years, but my taste slowly started to migrate towards the greener gems over time. This was most likely influenced by the intricacies inherent in emeralds, and the potential for gems such us peridot, tsavorite and the exceptionally rare and intriguing Csarite, to drive a revolution of change and excitement across the entire jewellery sector. Something I believe is desperately needed.
Here is Ian with Murat Akgun in Turkey playing with some rough Csarite / Diaspore crystals - Photo Credits: Ian Harebottle
AsiaLounges: Out of curiosity, having gone through a business school myself, what drove you to dedicating your life to managing these mining giants? What type of academic background do you have to go through to tackle these positions?
Ian Harebottle: I think I covered much of this under the opening question, so I will try not to repeat myself here, but the honest answer is that it wasn’t so much my academic training or career path that made the difference, but perhaps more so because I have never been fearful of change, I’m a disrupter and leader by nature, and always strive for constant improvement.
I am passionate about our industry, but what drives me crazy is when I meet people who are constantly complaining about how bad things are, and how good they used to be… (you know, there are many of them out there). But when I suggest to them that they should possibly consider changing the way they work, their answer always seems to be – “No, we have always done it this way, it’s the world that needs to change back to how it was”. When have you ever seen that happen? And even these same people would not want that to be true for any other part of their lives, so why do they seem to want that for our industry?
So I guess I’ve ended up being a leader of these Company, simply because I could not help it, not because that was my intention (and if you ask my wife, I’m pretty sure that’s the answer she will give you).
AsiaLounges: Last but not least, we like to ask our guests to give three pieces of advices to people that would like to follow in your footsteps as well as three books that you believe should be in any gem geek’s library.
Ian Harebottle: Only three…….?
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a mine field of qoatable qotes, most of which I either learned from my father, or from other people I have looked up to over the years, but my top three have to be:-
Treat everybody (and I mean everybody) the way you would want to be treated.
If a job is worth doing, its worth doing perfectly the first time (and by “perfectly” I mean getting the balance right - time/quality/cost/etc).
EVERY BRAIN IN THE GAME! In which every person or employee has BOTH the RIGHT AND the RESPONSIBILITY to have (and to voice) there opinions.
As to the three books, none of which are directly Gem related (sorry) it would have to be:-
The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations;
The Real Life MBA by Jack and Suzy Welch; and
A short History of just about Everything by Bill Bryson, simply because it puts so much into perspective and makes it hard to see ourselves as being overly important in the larger scheme of things.
AsiaLounges: Thank you very much Ian for being with us today, I am convinced that our readers, the Loungers, have enjoyed this interview as much as we did enjoy writing these lines.
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