Relationship-driven business practices


Nick Warren, Development Director for First Quantum Minerals, discusses the challenges and excitement of managing a mineral company with a people-focused strategy.

Nick WarrenNick Warren, Development Director of the London-based First Quantum Minerals (FQM), spoke to Johnson students in March. Warren’s lecture, titled, “Ethical Operations and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Mining Industry in Africa,” stressed the importance of investing in the people and the community where they operate.

FQM is a mining company with large operations in Africa and Australia. It began rather spontaneously in 1996 when the CEO, Philip Pascall, decided to buy a mine from an acquaintance in Zambia.

“We’re an entrepreneurial company that happens to do mining,” Warren said.

Expounding the work of the company, Warren referenced a case where FQM purchased a Western Australian mine from another company who, despite investing $2 billion on building this mine, gave up due to logistical limitations. FQM spent an additional $50 million to complete the mine and a year after the purchase, the mine was fully operational. “This is entrepreneurship,” Warren emphasized. Employing technical expertise and capitalizing on the creativity and knowledge of their talents are the core reasons for FQM’s success.

Warren explained that at the basis of these elements are the underlying ideas of flexibility and diversity. “We never had a strategy and we will never have a strategy,” claimed Warren. The fluid environment of the company appears to be an ill-fit for those accustomed to a structured one. The employees are encouraged not to ask permission. The company values diversity and built-in mechanisms are avoided at all costs. 

Instead of standardizing policy and implementing decision-making rules, the company, Warren said, emphasizes relationships. Solidarity, unity or agreement among the employees with a common goal, is what allows the company to learn and grow. Warren continued to highlight the relationship-driven nature of FQM.

This affinity for relationships carries over to the way FQM practices corporate social responsibility (CSR). Naturally, CSR for the company involves significant investment in people and the communities where it operates. For instance, FQM will nurture and finance the education of local community members hoping that these people will eventually make a large, positive impact in their communities. Warren cited a case in Mauritania, where FQM sponsored a young adult, who is now a critical member of FQM in West Africa and is impacting other Mauritanians. His display of work ethic, specifically, motivates other Mauritanians to adopt a positive view of working.

“His bravery, his courage, and his determination are worth ten MBA certificates,” Warren added.

Another responsibility that FQM takes to heart is social integration. A young woman from Mauritania well exemplifies the company’s desire to instill positive change. She was an excellent scholar, Warren recalled. FQM decided to sponsor her studies at a foreign university but her family vehemently opposed due to cultural notion that females do not study. Warren praised her courage for her decision to nevertheless pursue her studies. “The cost was great, but her impact on cultural integration is enormous.”

“It’s not about being perfect,” emphasized Warren. He explained that FQM expects its employees to make some mistakes – recognizing and addressing mistakes is how they will learn. Acknowledging that greater challenges lay ahead, the company, Warren said, will persevere in upholding this relationship-driven management strategy.

Written by Hyungjin Choi BA’16