OIM Interview: Helping the mining sector prosper

Words: Leadership Magazine – leadershiponline.co.za

The mining sector is big business, so it constantly needs help to move forward. OIM Consulting is one such pillar the sector leans on, and their work under MD Arjen de Bruin speaks for itself – even during a pandemic.

One quick look at mining consultancy firm OIM Consulting’s website tells you all you need to know: ‘OIM strives to make a meaningful contribution to the long-term prosperity of our clients, consultants and  employees; and to make a difference in the lives of the individuals and communities we engage with every day.’

Sitting down with OIM Managing Director Arjen de Bruin, it was easy to see exactly how important people are to the company.

OIM is all about ensuring a strong culture is entrenched in their clients, with the importance of bridging gaps between a diverse workforce vitally important to the end-goal.

When it comes to ensuring the right culture is instilled in a business, de Bruin believes OIM’s tactic of working from the diversity perspective right up to the mindset of all employees works wonders.

“OIM was started in 1985 to change the culture of organisations. During those times, we had racial tension in South Africa, so Professor Bob Tusenius said we needed to actually get into companies and change the nature of the conversation. From there he kicked off a whole range of cultural initiatives,” Amsterdam-born de Bruin says.

“So OIM’s history is in people. In about 2010, we moved into efficiency. Then we moved into leadership development. So OIM right now is a bundle of services. It is basically culture with efficiency and then leadership development to sustain the business.

“Our mantra is that if you have efficiency without a culture change, it is unsustainable. You need to bring the two together. If you don’t have the right type of leadership, then it starts failing, because how you want to plough forward is through leaders, through people, and so we say you need to develop your leaders correctly, giving them the right tools.

“Most companies will give you toolsets and skillsets, but we believe you need to have the mindset, so that is literally what OIM is about.”

Strong leadership has never been more important than in these times. Without the right training and understanding–which is exactly what OIM provides for their clients, businesses will start to fail in the uncertainty.

As the leader of OIM, de Bruin is under no illusions as to the task ahead, not just within his own organisation, but supporting his clients to ensure there is indeed a future. While this has been tough, de Bruin has taken the bull by the horns and is steadfast in his views that hard work and the right leadership will see businesses through–while innovative thinking and implementation is also very important.

“We’re implementation consultants and our biggest industry is the mining industry, so as soon as COVID-19 hit and the lockdown started, we had to get off site. We had to move remotely at our Gold Fields project, slow down at Rio Tinto, and halt the Amplats project. Our creditors who owed us money, they didn’t pay us, so we had to start running around asking for money, but it is fully understandable. It really gives you a bit of a jolt and we found that in the industry it was not just us, everyone was in the same boat. It forced us to start saying, ‘How can we do things differently?’,” de Bruin, who has a degree in Industrial Psychology, continues.

“So the assessments that we used to do with industrial psychologists standing in a room looking at you, we were now able to do remotely.

“We started to look at things we just accepted as normal and didn’t challenge ourselves on. We actually said, ‘Hang on, how can we do our training? Can we do it online? Can we do it differently?’

“These situations force you to start thinking differently and it forces you to innovate. It wasn’t like we sat back and said, ‘Oh my word, we can’t do anything’, we really were able to do some radical stuff, specifically remote conferencing. We used to have industrial psychologists in the room, you can now do it over your cellphone! We’ve learnt quite a lot during COVID-19.”

The constant talk of a ‘new normal’ has caused great debate. Many believe that remote employment is the way forward, while others believe it is just not possible. De Bruin is in the latter group. While some industries can sustain remote work, the mining industry is very different.

While it is going to take some time, de Bruin believes we will move back to an iteration of how we used to work, using the learnings of the lockdown as a guide.

“The longer we have been in the lockdown, the more people have been saying they actually do want that personal connection back. They don’t want people remotely talking to other people, they don’t want remote advice, they actually want people to stand in their situation,” the father of one says.

“So from an implementation point of view, I truly believe we as a company will go back to normal, just like other companies will, but what has happened is that the thinking haschanged. We now have options for clients. You can say to a client that you can deliver competencies this way or our training that way. We can now do the coaching that we have always done either 100% face-to-face or 70% face-toface and 30% remotely.

“I have been reading that this is the end of offices–it is not. I get a fundamental feeling from the people I am talking to that as soon as we move out of lockdown, we are going to slowly but surely move back to how we previously worked–we are going to adjust to it with the learnings.

“I don’t think it is going to be business as normal, but I think it would be very silly to start saying that it is now a remote world. That is not going to happen. Mining is mining. It is going to be immensely difficult to just digitise every mine. A guy is not going to sit in Joburg and drill a hole in Chile.”

While de Bruin has a lot more on his plate now because of the pandemic, he is still driven to complete the other goals he has set for himself and OIM.

The target is international dominance–and all the hard work laying the foundations in South Africa is starting to come to fruition.

“We have started initiating discussions with a global mining company about implementing our methodology worldwide, so my real shortterm goal is to ensure that we can take our methodology and actually implement it across the globe. I want to take a South African methodology to the world,” adds de Bruin.

“The long-term goal is to establish ourselves amongst the major players. We have already had discussions with two out of the five top mining companies in the world, who asked us about what we’re doing here in Africa. We have been appointed by one of them in South Africa and we’re doing a pilot in Richards Bay.

“The thing that gives OIM the edge is that our roots lie in culture. We have a fundamental understanding of how important culture is and most companies understand that, but they don’t know how to really deal with it. That’s where we come in.”

It is going to take a lot of grit, determination, and strong leadership to overcome the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At OIM, they are blessed with a strong leader in the shape of de Bruin, who is not only going to guide the company into a bright future locally, but across the globe, too.