Don't Tell Cynthia Carroll that Mining is Man's Work

Last Updated Sep 11, 2009 10:42 AM EDT

By any stretch of the imagination, it's an improbable career progression. Born in New Jersey and educated at Skidmore, Cynthia Carroll is today CEO of the world's fourth largest mining company, Anglo American plc.

How improbable? When she became CEO in 2007, Carroll was the first woman and first nonâ€"South African to helm the $26 billion-in-revenue company. In fact, as a profile of the executive in the HBS Alumni Bulletin makes clear, South Africa prohibited women from working underground until just a few years ago.

Her first major step was a doozie: shutting down an accident-plagued South African platinum mine and retraining its 28,000 employees. "We lost millions of dollars while production was curtailed, but it was the right thing to do," she tells the Bulletin.

Fortune recently put her #1 at the top if its International Power 50 list.

Some of her observations:

  • "Increasingly, we need two licenses to operate: one from our host government and the other a social license from affected communities. To maintain that welcome, we need to generate real sustainable benefits for those communities over the lifetime of a mine and beyond. That means providing education and training to raise local people to a standard where they can access jobs. It also means seeking ways to augment other sources of livelihood and build the skills of the community."
  • "The proposed Pebble Mine (Alaska) project is an important one that would create many hundreds of jobs in an area where jobs are few. But if I'm not satisfied we can proceed without harm to the local people and the environment, then we simply won't do it. We will not go where communities are against us."
  • "All mining companies are cutting back across the board; they're curtailing greenfield exploration as well as developmental brownfield projects. Because demand, especially from China, will surge, there's going to be a severe shortage in supply during the initial recovery from this slump. When the cycle does change, and it will, there's going to be a big upswing for this industry."
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.