Q&A with Mark Cutifani – CEO of Anglogold Ashanti

BRLP:  Tell us a little about your childhood and how it may have prepared you for a leadership role?.

Cutifani:  My mother is from an Irish background but Australian born. Her family owned pubs. So you had a young Italian migrant and an Australian girl with an Irish background. Quite a volatile pairing. I was the oldest of three kids that had to be responsible, with dad working far away. Quite often when my parents had conversations or arguments they would talk cross purposes, totally missing one another. I learnt to listen with different ears, to never take the words in the way they were expressed. It was the context and pieces around the conversation that mattered. I often found myself interpreting one parent’s comments to the other, as the oldest child.

This cultural experience growing up may have prepared me for my current job and from a management point of view to try and listen to the conversation very carefully and listen beyond the actual words, as spoken from the heart. As a leader, first understand what the real issue is, and then you can respond and provide the leadership to people and address the issues they need leadership for.

BRLP: Where does your value system come from?

Cutifani: Australia was a very racist society. As a kid growing up, my father was a very dark man. So I was very different and the Cutifani name was not that common either. In our town I was in a fight probably every other day for being called certain names. I think through those early years the issue of prejudice or the way you treat people, and that basic sense of humanity was something you sort of wished you had. What I went through was nothing I would imagine compared to what happened in other places in the world. But for me it had that much of an impact that everyone is an individual; they are different and in fact you should celebrate their differences. It is all about whom we are and relationships. And, my Father was a friendly person, with everyone. He just did not see issues of colour, race or whatever. My Mother’s family basically kicked her out of the family for marrying him. So we were somewhat isolated, it was just our family. Loyalty, honesty and trust were deeply seated.

BRLP: There seems to be less and less trust between leaders and followers world over. Your comments?

Cutifani: First point I want to make is that you are not a leader if you have not established trust. So we have lots of people in leadership positions, but they are not leaders. Leaders build trust. And if you asked how one builds an effective organisation where people work together, it is when there is trust, which is the thing that binds. People in leadership positions make the mistake by acting like physicists – everything can be reduced to an equation, where the answer is correct, or it is an absolute that is well defined. Leadership is more than numbers or the facts that you deal with on a day to day basis. The other and critical part of leadership is the philosophy part, the sense that you are building people, and that you care, that they are part of the process, and that they are being listened to.   

At the end of the day there are more people with a better standard of living in the world today than there has ever been. Yet one would say that we are seeing millions of people feeling disenfranchised, treated unfairly; leaders of major companies with their hands in the till; politicians we don’t trust; and people are more unhappy than they were ten, twenty or more years ago. I think we are on the cusp of a change, and the change is around the sense that people in leadership positions are not listening; they are not responding to the social needs that people feel. Ultimately leadership is about getting the balance between the physicist and the philosopher, and building trust with people, which is the philosophy part that I think we have lost.

BRLP: Are we developing better leaders than in the past, or are we as a society missing something?  

Cutifani: The challenge in many business schools is we have reduced leadership to a series of defined practices with expected outcomes. It’s more than that. There is a soul in there somewhere. There is a heart. Leadership is listening and understanding the issues that drive people. In their own life they are looking for someone that’s got a better sense of where we should be going and they are looking for leadership. What we are trying to do in AngloGold Ashanti with various programs is to build relationships. I marvel at the ability Mandela had to get South Africans talking to each other. But my fear is that after him we reduced the relationships in this country to numbers. It’s actually the sincerity, and the humanity and the relationships, and how we come together that matters. Real leadership is about both the relationships and the numbers.

BRLP: What is the impact of your leadership beyond this organisation?

Cutifani: From a mining industry point of view, I am the Vice-President of the Chamber of Mines. I think we as an industry have to listen more carefully to society; we have to work with the government and all key stakeholders in creating a different image and a different engagement process. I think we have to do a better job in society. So my role on the chamber is about supporting us as an industry to achieve this while also improving our sustainability performance. And ultimately it is a better thing for our industry and for society. As a CEO my job is to make the world a better place.

I am also a spokesman for health matters for BLSA. I was volunteered because I had a view on the health system. And, I serve on the advisory committees for several international universities, from Cape Town to Chicago to Brazil and have now been invited to become an advisor on Columbia University’s sustainability strategy group. So, education and developing and growing leadership, and changing the way industry works within society is part of my contribution.

BRLP: And in one sentence, why do you do all of this?

Cutifani: I want to make a difference. I hope the world is a better place for my kids.

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Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

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