Interview with Laurent Décalion, CEO of Boss Mining
For other interviews
by Paul Trustfull:
Amid the Ravages of War, Something Good
Is Happening at the DRC
Among George Forest’s greatest philosophies in life, is giving back to the people. And this he has done in so many ways, that the people of Katanga and by extension DRC Congo recognize him.
“When you give back to the people, they are going to be happy and workers will put in their best for you,” he says. No wonder, besides his business acumen, this man has grown to be so successful in his endeavors and has managed to retain his workers for the years he has been at the company.
Mr Forest is the president and CEO of the George Forest Group, a company that was first formed by his father, Malta Forest, in 1922, and which he changed to the current name when he took over complete control of the company 20 years ago. On assuming top leadership of the company the young Forest brought in new impetus and it has grown into a large conglomerate of companies that deal with range of business including mining and infrastructure development.
But money and industry are not the only things the group has been able to achieve. In a land that has lived through crisis after crisis: civil wars, hunger, exploitation, greed from its leaders, corruption and despair, the George Forrest Foundation has come to be a fountain of hope. It has stood the test of time and been there when the people needed it most.
The DRC Congo is a very resource rich country. With its vast deposits of copper, gold, diamonds and cobalt among other metals and minerals, it could be the richest country on the African continent. It also has a huge forest and many rivers, whose waters could power a large part of the continent. Unfortunately, these very reasons have been the bane of this country, whose history is riddled with injustices from internal and more so external sources, fighting to take control of this natural wealth.
And matters were not helped by its leaders like Mobutu Sese Seko, whose sole aim was to line his pockets with the country’s wealth, leaving it bereft of any meaningful development in such important areas as infrastructure, health and education. But amid the ravages of war, something good is going on at the Congo in the form of companies out to help the locals. This is where the George Forrest Group has come in. Besides its core business, the group has involved itself immensely in the social affairs of not only its employees but the Congolese community as a whole. Even during the darkest moments in the country’s history, when everything seemed to come to a standstill, especially during the civil that has plagued the country, this company supported even the government by sometimes bailing it out with financial support.
From helping to put up and rehabilitate roads, it has the has built schools and gives free education; it has opened hospitals that it fully finances; provides health foods, supports museums, artists and NGO’s among other things. It has also helped the authorities in improving the environment and providing clean drinking water and electricity to the communities.
To be able to do all this and to reach a wider population, it became necessary for the group to create a system that would put all the projects in one basket, and thus the birth of the Racheal Forrest Foundation in 2007. On its creation, the foundation was dedicated to Mr Forrest’s mother, who believed that besides doing business and making money, contributing to the development of the community is a worthy cause for any entrepreneur.
“My mother believed in giving back to the community and I am just following in her philosophy,” says George Forrest who admits the foundation has done a lot of good for Katanga. services have been provided to the authorities like in improving the environment or supplying villages with drinking water and electricity. It has however become essential to develop our social, cultural and environmental activities within a better framework. This is why the group decided to create the Racheal foundation, dedicated to the memory of George Forrest’s mother. According to the group’s website, www.forrestgroup.com, the foundation aims to manage and develop other activities to satisfy as many people as possible.
The foundation is managed by Ms Nicole Nguz and handles various projects in the health, cultural, education, infrastructure and other sectors. She says of Mr Forrest: “Mr Forrest is a man giving back to the people and community and is very committed in helping the less fortunate.” She adds that she has great respect for him because he really love the people, right from his heart. Ms Nguz whose father is a former diplomat in the US worked with the UNDP before joining the foundation.
Among the infrastructural works the foundation is involved in is the electrification and water supply for the village of Kawama. It is also involved in the overhaul of part of the electricity network supplying Kasumbalesa on the Zambian border, digging of wells equipped with manual pumps in some rural areas and financing sporting activities, especially football.
It provides financial support to various congregations, artists, chiefs, the Lubumbashi museum and Zoological garden that is named Forrest square. Various non-profit organizations working to improve the lives of the people and to protect the environment are also supported.
Through the non-profit association Dialogues, the foundation also supports culture through the promotion of visual arts in Lubumbashi. Tracing its history back to 1998, Dialogues has helped artists hold exhibition, it’s taken part in helping the rehabilitation of the museum and opened a gallery there that it fully finances. The association also organizes talks with artists in the city, to raise listeners awareness of Congo’s cultural roots and contemporary art.
Besides these, the foundation also involves itself in providing quality education to children and young people. It has been doing this in various ways, including providing free education from nursery to primary to secondary school. In Lukala lower Congo, Cimenterie de Lukala provides free education for more than six hundred children, all paid for by the companies through the foundation.
In Kabimba, North Katanga, it does the same. It also helps through subsides or through allowances paid annually to employees in urban areas. In addition, the group also manages social homes, such as those in Lukala, where young girls receive basic education alongside training in various skills like dressmaking etc. The group is also involved in supporting higher education. With the health sector in a terribly dilapidated condition, the group has taken initiative to help provide access to high-quality health care for all its employees and the community. It provides the support either directly or through subsidies. In Lukala, through one of its companies, the community benefits from a maternity hospital, a dispensary and an efficient clinic, all paid for by the company.
In Kabimba, another of its companies offers free high-quality consultations, care, surgical operations and maternity. The group also offers food-related activities that help fight diseases like kwashiorkor and undernourishment.
The Racheal Forrest Foundation is all over the country. Last year, it spent USD3,4m on the projects and already this year, it has spent USD2m.
OM Group: Staying the Course in Katanga
With its rich deposits in copper, cobalt, coltan, diamonds and other minerals the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could be one of the richest countries in Africa. Estimates have put its mineral wealth at about $24 trillion, an equivalent to the GDP of both the US and Europe combined. In the 1980’s, the DRC was the world’s fourth largest producer of industrial diamonds and these continue to dominate exports.
The DRC’s main copper and cobalt interests are dominated by Gécamines, the state-owned mining organization.
In the Katanga province, which is now more peaceful, vast reserves of copper exist. Estimates total 55.5 million tons of copper and 3.6 million tons of cobalt. Recently, in a move to improve international trade, new mining contracts were approved, which, together with the high mineral and metal prices, could have improved DRC’s GDP growth. Implementing the new DRC Mining code also renewed interest by the international mining industry and DRC, despite the war, crime, hunger and misery seemed to be rearing to go. However, the global economic crisis is threatening the fragile economy of this country, adding to the woes it has already undergone in much of its political and economic history, and Katanga has especially taken a beating.
Starting late 2008, the global demand for natural resources dropped and prices of commodities like copper and cobalt fell to all-time lows. Copper lost over 50 per cent of its value, while cobalt fell from a high of 48 dollars a pound in March 2008 to about 12 dollars by the end of the year. As a result, over half of the 75 copper and cobalt mining companies operating in the Katanga province were forced to either suspend or slow down their production activities.
Following this 300,000 people lost their jobs and there are fears that the copper and cobalt prices may not recover any time soon. However, there are some companies braving these difficult times and sticking to their guns. OM Group, Inc, the world’s largest refiner and producer of cobalt specialty products, which has be in operation in the DRC since 1997 is one of them.
The Cleveland, Ohio based company is determined to rough the hard times and says its commitment to the Katanga region, the location of its African operations, is long term.
OMG is no new investor in the troubled region; after all, it pitched camp for the first time in the wealth laden but seemingly resource cursed country, during one of its most turbulent times. 1997 was not an easy time for the DRC, then Zaire, where a civil war, which had just begun, was going on. But along with its partners Gécamines and Forrest Group, OMG was the first western investor to make a significant foray into the country after the war began. Together, they established a joint venture to create value from a 30 storey tall waste heap from 70 years of copper mining. OMG is the majority shareholder of the joint venture, Groupement du Traitement du Terril de Lubumbashi (GTL).
“Historically, the DRC has been one of the more difficult places in which to do business, however, the situation is improving,” says Stephen D. Dunmead, the vice president and general manager of OMG. This is due to the efforts of the president (Joseph Kabila) and current governor of the Katanga province, he adds.
“The governor comes from a business background and understands what issues are of importance to the business community,” he says of Katanga’s governor, Moise Katumbi Chapwe. “This is especially important in today’s economic environment with the impact it has had on commodity prices,” he says.
OMG gets approximately 50 per cent of its cobalt feed material from the DRC. On setting camp in the country, the joint venture built a facility with Finnish technology to western standards. “The plant is built and operated to standards such that it could be duplicated in Helsinki, Finland or Cleveland, Ohio. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for all the operations in the DRC,” says Mr Dunmead. From a safety perspective, the plant in Katanga was the best performing of the OM Group in 2008 with zero lost time accidents, he adds.
Over the past two years, GTL generated over $300 million in cash flow to Gécamines and DRC in form of payments for raw materials, taxes, electricity and dividends. The joint venture has created 400 jobs and also engages in social responsibility activities, some of which include investment in the community, social and health care programs and education.
“We are proud of the value that the joint venture has created for Gécamines and for the DRC over the last few years,” says the company’s vice president. OMG supplies more than 4,000 customers in 50 countries with more than 575 product offerings. It also serves more than 30 major industries, including rechargeable batteries, hard metal tools, catalysts and ceramics. Key technology-based end-use applications include affordable energy, portable power, clean air, clean water and proprietary products and services for the microelectronics industry.
Laurent Décalion, CEO of Boss Mining
Leads Kakanda to a Better Future
At the age of only 33-years-old, Laurent Décalion is already making ripples within the world of mining. The young man of Belgian origin and who was born in Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the current president and managing director of Boss Mining, a subsidiary of the larger Central African Mining & Exploration Co. (Camec) an AIM listed company.
Together with Boss Mining, Décalion is also the head of the Congo Cobalt Corporation, Savannah Mining and Mukondo Mining in Luita, all under Camec.
This is no mean achievement, for the Belgian educated technician, climbed the ladder of success within one of the world’s richest mining companies in such a short time and at such a tender age. Having joined Boss Mining at the age of 28 in 2004, Camec credits the young man with being instrumental in the conception, realization and construction of various innovative mining processes and structures, including the world’s first industrial unit that performs lixivation on heaps of cobalt ore. He was also the first one to introduce lixiviation on heaps of copper ore in DRC, by building an industrial unit of lixiviation of copper heaps in Luita. The facility is the world’s first producer of cobalt through heap leaching and SX/EX technology. And Luita in itself is a success story. It is a story of great innovation, determination and short of genius in the speed at which the high technology copper/cobalt processing and SX/EW plant was built in a remote area of Katanga, near the town of Kakanda.
In just nine months, the state-of-the-art copper/cobalt facility, which would normally take two to three to construct to full operation was complete. And all under his watch. In fact, Décalion himself considers this achievement a world record. But the graduate in electro mechanics is not only about the hard stuff in life: metals and difficult mathematics and serious business. No, the father of one child also has a soft side too. He is a people person, and has a passion also for his people and their welfare.
Décalion who has three brothers believes that education is key component of development of the individual and the country, and in DRC, most of the populace has been denied even basic education for years. He believes that to rebuild the DRC education has to take prominence and even put building of a lab at the Luita plant on hold to construct a school for 3,600 students in Kakanda. And after completion of the school, his aim is to build a technical college.
It has over 400 million dollars invested in social programmes including education. “This is the way to go,” says Décalion of the social programmes.
Ever since the company began its businesses in Kakanda town, it has grown from a low of just 4,000 inhabitants to almost original levels of 60,000. About 45,000 of these are employees of the company and their dependents.
The company also offers free medical services to the people in the town. “Camec Boss Mining is there to make something beautiful of the DRC,” he says during an interview at his office. “Even with the hard economic times and all the troubles around we did not lay off any workers or plan to,” he adds.
Among the other projects the company has been involved in are infrastructure, where in 2006-7 it invested $US1.2 million to reconstruct the national road between Kolwezi and Likasi, in the Kakanda Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Company has environmental and social management plans prepared and also supports agriculture and training initiatives.
Décalion has distaste of foreign who come to Africa to reap then take of without giving back to the community or leaving any positive projects behind. And those who work for his company have to respect the people and their culture, or be dismissed.
He also has a passion for the DRC and loves the clean air and open spaces. He wants his children to grow up in Africa, go to school in Africa because he loves the culture and believes Africa is safe enough for his children.“By all standards, I am an African and I want my children to feel the same,” he says. Décalion feels that he can identify with the US president Barack Obama and believes that his presidency will have a positive impact on Africa and its people.
“I did not like Bushes policies on Africa,” he says. He also thinks highly of the governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi Chapwe, saying he is young and smart.
Camec is an integrated exploration, mining and production company with a primary focus on mining and marketing of copper and cobalt. Although the DRC is the focus of it operations, the company is active in other countries in Africa. In Mozambique, it has interests in both coal and agriculture, in South Africa in fluorspar, platinum and coal, and in Mali in bauxite. Its only producing mining operation, however, is in the DRC.
Interview by Paul Trustfull, Editor-in-Chief, Global Vision Magazine