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Transcript: Learning to collaborate in South Africa's corporate culture

Mark Cutifani is chief executive of CEO of Anglogold Ashanti Ltd. in Johannesburg.

AngloGold Ashanti/AngloGold Ashanti

KARL MOORE: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for the Globe & Mail.

Today I am in Johannesburg, South Africa, with 37 McGill students, where we are sitting down with the CEO of AngloGold Ashanti , one of the biggest mining companies in the world.

When you came in, you had been in the mining industry for years and you understood it well. How long did it take you to sort out what the problems were here and what to do about them?

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MARK CUTIFANI I think in those first 3 months we got a good sense of 70 per cent of the issues, but I would say even after four years I am learning something each day. I think, as CEO, the minute you think you have got the place worked out then you are in significant danger of becoming complacent.

So we did a lot of work together pulling apart and exploring what the issues were in that first three or four months. So we got a good sense of what the issues were, we developed a strategy that stood us in good stead, but I would have to say every day is a learning exercise and we add and create new ideas as part of the process but the general direction has held pretty well.

KM: You are Australian, you have worked in Canada for 5 years, you are now in South Africa. How do you find the business cultures in those three parts of the world that you are most familiar with? Are they substantially different?

MC: The general cultures are substantially different so I think, as a consequence, that business cultures are also different. In Canada it's interesting to see how Canadians, I see, define themselves as who they are not – we're not American. We think about the way we work together and the way we co-operate as being something quite unique and very collaborative in their approach.

In South Africa, if you look at the history, we are on almost the other side of the coin with Apartheid and its history – not collaborating at all, in fact very divisionalized in terms of their approach.

But in the new South Africa, post-Mandela and the transformation, there is a new sense of trying to work together and trying to create a new country. So it is a very dynamic culture but also one that reflects negatively on the past and that does create tensions in the current relationships. But the country and the people are working very hard to change that past to create a new future.

So very different cultures and as a consequence it goes into the way things occur in business. We have a very formal transformation program, which is meant to be uplifting for those who have been denied for so long but can be very threatening for those that have been in a different position.

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Both groups recognize the problem and are trying to work those issues through but it does create a very complex work environment and we have to be sensitive to both groups and try to bring them together in a very constructive way.

In Canada you have got a very, I think, consistent, consolidated, and almost homogeneous approach to the way life is carried out and so business tends to be a much more collaborative and open set of relationships in terms of the way that businesses and people work within those businesses.

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