What would Shakespeare think of our mining industry?

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Shakespeare was possibly the world’s finest dramatist, giving us the ability to look at our own selves without being self-conscious. This objectivity gives us the ability to learn something new of ourselves.

We are members of an industry who often find it difficult to talk to each other but if Shakespeare was reporting on our activities, our responses would produce a highly entertaining version of the Merchant of Venice.

Most of us have adequate knowledge of our own companies, but little of other companies, and some not even a clear view of the national significance of our own industry.

Shakespeare would be fascinated to hear how CEO’s personally feel about this very vital and creative industry. Their lack of passion could have mystify him. He would be staggered to hear comments such as “exploration is a destroyer of shareholder value”.

Or, “we are dropping the word MINING from our company name, as this will bring more investor support.” Or “we don’t really think of ourselves as a mining company.” To these CEO’s, Shakespeare would identify and ask what they are afraid of if they feel that: “to be direct and honest is not safe.” (Othello)

Shakespeare would enjoy putting to words the very precise correlation that graphs so accurately the speed at which decisions are made; quickly in smaller companies and perhaps never in the largest.

Shakespeare’s genius and patience would be tested in his desire to transform all this into a literary masterpiece. In some cases he may have to borrow a phrase from my favourite writer Ayn Rand:

“The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life.”

Shakespeare would be impressed by Professor Geoffrey Blainey’s overview of the industry as they both have in common the appreciation that the industry’s economics and ethics are not at odds, but in harmony. This would be consistent with Shakespeare’s other writings where he invites us to rethink the relationship between our economic and our spiritual life.

Rising above any temptation to create a resentful ‘poor class’, with unjustified feelings of entitlement, Shakespeare would enjoy our process of achieving improvements to knowledge, science, and skills, in a profession that cannot survive without honesty and integrity.

Hopefully Shakespeare would be forgiving in his dealing with some of the executive pay packages and ‘golden umbrellas’ set up in such a way that the senior executives view their companies as being worth more to them as a break-up or takeover target than as a living breathing entity worth nurturing and growing.

Greed is the killer of many good relationships and Australia has recently been confronted with gross examples of corporate greed that diminish the corporate side of our industry. Greed sits more comfortably with governments and unions but the corporate world is far too transparent when it comes to masking the true value of our endeavours.

Politicians may be able to fool some of the people, some of the time, but if we are to find mineral resources and economically develop these, we have to face the indisputable facts of nature and of natural science. As Sir Avi Parbo has said: “Nonsense cannot be pursued far in engineering”.

Shakespeare, like all creative writers, simply worked with ordinary words, to which they claim no intellectual entitlement. They spend their lives making value out of combinations of words that have no economic worth in themselves, being common property, infinitely reproducible with no scarcity value.

Poets and writers like Shakespeare, blaze a trail, so that people such as us can fight our battles and tackle our challenges with a clearer perception of how we fit into the overall scheme of things.

As Shakespeare said in Hamlet:

“We know what we are,
but know not what we might be.”

Yes, Shakespeare would be ideal for the task of dramatising our industry with passion but unfortunately as he is not available, we may have to step forward and take on this challenge ourselves. To which Shakespeare may respond:

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)

Here, I’m sure that Shakespeare was using the word ‘madness’ in the same sense we often use it to describe that reckless ‘just one more’ drill hole, that so often makes that major mineral discovery. So it’s up to us now, to infuse this sense of responsibility and unrelenting curiosity to the next generation as we continue on in life’s relay race.

We will need enough courage to adopt these big goals and again Shakespeare would encourage us by saying:

“Be not afraid of greatness:
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” (Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5)

Shakespeare might have commented on some of the challenges we faced by saying:

“When disaster comes, it comes not as single spies but in battalions.”

Ron Manners is the Managing Director of the Mannwest Group. He is a Fellow of both the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and the Australian Institute of Company Directors. His contributions to industry and Australia have been marked by several awards including being elected as a ‘Mining Legend’ at the 2005 Excellence in Mining & Exploration Conference in Sydney. In 2010 Ron was appointed to the Advisory Council for the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, Washington, DC.