Skip to content

“I love traveling and working with different people”

Tracey Kerr is Anglo American’s Safety and Sustainability Team Leader; Independent Non-Executive Director, Head of the Safety and Sustainability Committee on the Board of Directors of Polymetal.

— You and I met at the Polymetal Young Leaders meeting when they flew to London to present their projects to the Board of Directors. After the meeting, one of the main questions was: “How to become a member of the board of directors?” How did you become one?

“First, you need a lot of experience in one of the areas that will be useful to the council. I have two such areas: a career in exploration (I was its leader at Anglo American) and experience in the field of safety, risk management and sustainability that is very much in demand today. Secondly, it is necessary to understand the role of councils, how they are organized. The roles of directors [on the board] and managers [of the company] are different, they have different responsibilities. I started with an introductory course at the Institute of Directors in London. I really liked it, I decided to continue and got a diploma. You can get there in other ways. For example, I am responsible for supporting the sustainability committee on the board of Anglo American and also advising the remuneration committee on sustainability-related metrics. So I had the opportunity to learn from them.

Councils need people with different experience. Polymetal has Ian Cockrill with vast mining experience as CEO. Giacomo Baizini and Olli Oliveira with a financial background as financial directors. Italy Boninelli – HR, Victor esa Flores – market analysis, Andrea Abt – strategy and innovation. Konstantin Yanakov has extensive experience in finance and an understanding of the Russian business environment.

– How much do you rely on experience, and how much do you have to study, becoming a member of the board of directors?

Each of us is responsible for the entire business. I need to know as much about finance, operations and business strategy as other directors. We are all participants in discussions and make decisions together. In my current role at Anglo American, I am fortunate to be part of the technology and sustainability team. Members of my team lead expert teams in exploration, production, refining and technological development. I myself participate in the consideration of projects and new technologies.

In addition to key skills, I have an understanding of the functioning of the mining company as a whole.

One of the interesting aspects of being on the board of directors is the opportunity to learn from another company. Polymetal has a very talented team.

– In some countries, companies are now required to give a third of the seats on the board of directors to women. Have you felt increased interest in yourself as a potential board member?

— Of course, the combination of the fact that I work in the field of sustainable development and that I am a woman creates a certain interest. I am not currently looking for positions on another board as I work full time at Anglo American. But in the future, I’m really going to move towards a career, as they are called, portfolio NED, non-executive director.

— In your opinion, is the direction of sustainable development developing in Russia in the same way as in the West?

– Undoubtedly. We see it growing exponentially, especially in terms of climate change. Investors are now showing much more attention to these indicators. They ask more questions, arrange one-on-one meetings to discuss the details. This was not the case three years ago. At the same time, we see growing regulatory expectations for performance and reporting.

Boards now have at least one director specializing in sustainability and climate change.

“But it still doesn’t seem like it’s such an urgent problem. Do you think Russia will join the solution to the problem of climate change, despite its dependence on hydrocarbons?

“Different countries move at different speeds because they face different challenges. Russia needs more time to introduce alternatives that require investment in economic restructuring. However, talking to young people, no matter what country they come from, shows how much they care about the environment, the future and equal opportunities for all members of society. They have developed ecological and social consciousness.

— And it complicates the life of mining companies.

— Mining companies are also rethinking their purpose, their role in society, their potential contribution to a better future for everyone. To be successful in the long run, you have to be resilient. Numerous examples show that investing in technology and sustainable practices brings financial results, while at the same time being morally correct.

— Most of the major mining companies have declared their readiness to zero greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the impact on biodiversity. Do you think they will succeed?

— I am very optimistic. Before making such promises, companies have worked to find ways to achieve these goals. Many of the people I talk to see how to cut 70-80% of emissions. With the development of technology, they will be able to close the gap. For most companies, electrification and the transition to renewable sources – solar, wind, hydro – will be a huge step forward.

– Do you meet many women at the same level in the mining industry as you?

“Now more than before. I am part of Women in Mining UK. There are women in leadership positions at Anglo American and other companies that I interact with. Quite a few women get a specialty and start a career in the mining industry. The difficulty is to keep them when they reach 35, 40, 45 years. The Hampton-Alexander survey of companies in the FTSE 350 notes that more women are joining boards of directors. However, the number of women CEOs or directly reporting to them is not growing.

Do you see any solution to keep these women?

Quotas help. Of course, with the condition that we hire women for leadership positions, because they are the best. The optimal solution is to have a list with different candidates and remember that interviewing and hiring is always easier for those who look like you. But for business, this is bad, because you need a difference of opinion. And I’m talking not only about gender diversity, but also cultural, religious.

During my long career I have been fortunate to work in different countries, leading teams of maybe thirty nationalities. I have personally experienced the benefits of different points of view.

How can you manage such a diverse team? How did you manage to make everyone feel at their place?

This skill has been developed over the years. In 1997, I moved to London, where I began to live and work in Russia. Throughout Russia: in Kamchatka, in Magadan, Khabarovsk, the Kola Peninsula. BHP had exploration projects [in Russia] at the time. Russian culture was something completely different for me. Over time, I began to understand the differences, appreciate them, learn the language. And when you value and give importance to different opinions, it helps to manage. I love traveling and working with different people. This is probably the best thing that has happened in my career.

— So, Polymetal is not your first experience in Russia?

– Not! That’s why I was so glad when the opportunity arose. come back and work for Polymetal The first time I worked in Russia was only three years, but they changed my life. I’m from Australia, we don’t have to travel often. It was my first experience of immersing myself in another culture and I was completely fascinated. Russian people and the culture of this country are in my heart.

Of all the countries where you have worked, where do women feel most confident?

— In Russia and Brazil. Russia has a historically high level of technical education and many women in leadership positions. In the late 1990s, I went to a project for the extraction of rare metals on the Kola Peninsula. The project was run by a woman, and the majority of her team were women. Brazil has a similar situation. But we are still in the minority.

Your children were very young when you worked in Guinea and South Africa. How did you manage?

“I used to leave my family in Brisbane [in Australia], fly to Africa, spend two or three weeks there, and come back. My husband also worked in mining and went away to work, so we had a rule: one of us should always be at home. We had to coordinate schedules, but it worked. When the children were small, we had a nanny. When they got older, we had someone who could pick them up after school. Now they are happy and successful. My son is seventeen, he is finishing school. Daughter twenty-one, she studies at the university. Having an understanding husband is very important. He is cooking. This is a real partnership.

“Why didn’t you leave the booty when you had a family?”

“My kids would laugh if they heard that!” I’m just not a homebody. I think they are very proud of me. When [my husband and I] were planning a family, we knew that I would return to work. We knew we would need a babysitter. It is important to understand that everyone is different, and everyone makes the choice that seems right to him. If it’s your choice to take care of a family or change careers, so be it. We need to think about those who would like to pursue a career in mining: how to make life easier for them, how to make it more accessible.

– This is a question that many HR managers ask. HR professionals Have you seen examples of good support?

“Firstly, [helps] a progressive parental leave policy, and in this sense, Russia is a very advanced country. In the UK or Australia, for example, there is no such long vacation. Secondly, flexible working options. The pandemic has demonstrated that many can work from home. We no longer have to go to the office. We have seen that working hours can be flexible. Some of my colleagues have small children, and when the schools closed, the children stayed at home. I did not expect their parents to sit at the computer from nine to five. In the morning they could play with the children or help them with their studies, and start work earlier or finish later. One of my colleagues works three days a week. Perhaps when her little one goes to school, she will return to work full-time.

— Due to the coronavirus, shifts have become much longer for many shift workers. It is difficult both physically and mentally. Are you seeing an increase in accidents and injuries at work because people are tired and lose focus?

– Long watches and fatigue cause anxiety; we discussed this at the safety and sustainability committee at Polymetal. Mental health is another big issue. At Anglo American, we use a variety of tools to relieve stress, such as the Headspace mobile app. We urge managers and colleagues to be more attentive in order to notice in time if someone next to them is not feeling very well. We have trained people in “psychological first aid”: if you see certain symptoms in a colleague, you know what can be done or where to turn.

– Does it help?

– I think yes. Anglo American conducts anonymous surveys every month. One of the greatest stresses during lockdown is for people who are forced to work and at the same time look after children. We do not have many shift workers, but as far as I know, Polymetal is also gathering the opposite opinion. It is very important to give workers a voice and answer the questions they raise. Long watches are not ideal. But they are needed to preserve the health of people so that they can work and earn. It’s complicated. I hope people see that this is only for a while, for the next few months, and then we get out of this difficult covid period.

Interviewed by Elena Chigareva

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on whatsapp