In her first few months as chief executive at Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, Cynthia Carroll traveled to 14 countries, visiting mines and interviewing staff, meeting with government officials, and talking to miners and local community members. “I needed to figure out what the potential of the company was,” says Carroll. “So I went out and met with people and talked to them.” In addition to talking, Carroll listened.
With a master’s in geology and 25 years of experience, Carroll was not new to the industry, but her 2007 appointment to the top spot at London-headquartered Anglo American made headlines in the male-dominated mining community. The first woman and non–South African to lead the 95-year-old company, Carroll, a native of Princeton, New Jersey, was hired as a change agent, and her combination of compassion, strategic vision, and business acumen has had a deep impact not just on Anglo American, but on the entire mining industry as well.
Carroll’s mettle was tested early on when she was visiting South Africa and learned that another death had occurred in a nearby platinum mine. “That’s enough,” she said, and ordered the mine closed, keenly aware of the financial consequences for the company. “Everyone was telling me that loss of life was an inevitable part of mining,” recalls Carroll. “I knew we could do better.”
It took several days to get the 28,000 workers out of the mine and almost two months to implement new safety procedures, but in that one, decisive moment, Carroll made clear her intention to focus on safety. Her steadfast commitment has dramatically decreased the number of deaths in Anglo American’s mines worldwide. Between 2002 and 2006 the company lost 46 people annually, on average. By 2011 the number had fallen to 17. “I’m very proud of our progress,” she says. “Yet, there is more to do.”
Carroll’s leadership at Anglo American has significantly influenced the industry by setting new standards for safety and by offering miners, their families, and their communities a thoughtful, long-term outlook. She initiated a “Tripartite Safety Summit” to investigate and implement best practices by bringing together industry, union, and government leaders. “Initially the union representatives said, ‘We don’t even know how to deal with you—we are so used to putting on the boxing gloves,’” says Carroll. “But then, we started to trust each other. That’s when we saw changes in our safety performance.”
Under her watch, Anglo American has taken a much more collaborative role with the towns where the company operates. “We are not interested in coming in and getting all we can out of the land and then leaving,” she says. “We are thinking 100 years down the road, not 5 or 10.” In Peru, Anglo American recently reached agreement with local communities and government to establish a development fund and water infrastructure as part of the company’s Quellaveco copper mine project. This was achieved through a formal dialogue process involving 28 government, community, and company representatives, the first of its type in Peru.
While Carroll is proud of the progress Anglo American has made within its mining communities, her reputation has also been built on strong management and excellent financial performance. Her comprehensive internal reorganization and strategic partnerships have led to greater efficiencies and ongoing growth. In her five-year tenure, Carroll has diversified the mix of commodities the company holds through partnerships and acquisitions. Operating profits in 2011 reached a record $11 billion while earnings grew 23 percent and debt was reduced.
The life of any CEO of a multibillion-dollar company involves long hours, and given that Anglo American has a presence in 43 countries, Carroll spends more than half of her time traveling. A mother of four children ages 12 to 18, she works hard to balance career demands with her family. Her husband, David, put his career on hold in order to help take care of the family, and Carroll’s gratitude runs deep. “I really could not do any of this without him,” she says a few months before they will celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary.
With two daughters in school in the United States and a son and daughter at home outside London, David manages the household, and Carroll keeps connected through modern technologies. She checks in, often from a very different time zone, asking about homework assignments, piano practice, and athletic endeavors.
Whether cheering for her son on the soccer field or meeting with Nelson Mandela to discuss how to stop the spread of the AIDS virus in Africa, Carroll’s no-nonsense, energetic style comes through. In a world where people ask whether women can have it all, Cynthia Carroll dismisses the question, insinuating that her track record is much more important than her gender. “I just focus on getting the job done,” she says. That focus has clearly served hundreds of thousands of people in and around mining communities worldwide very, very well.
Photos by Susan Young