Marna Cloete: Freedom to contribute

Published on Mar 26, 2024
Marna Cloete
Marna Cloete

President, Ivanhoe Mines


How did your career begin and what is your key advice to anyone beginning their journey?

There are a few fortunate individuals who know exactly what they want to do once they have completed school. I was not one of them, in fact, I changed my degree course three times during my first year of study. I went on to complete a marketing degree, followed by a master’s degree in taxation from the University of Pretoria, specialising in mining. This paved my way as a graduate at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the Metals and Mining Division. To provide context, this chapter of my career unfolded against the backdrop of a politically tumultuous period as South Africa was navigating through the end of the apartheid era. As someone who did not inherit wealth, I recognised the importance of securing my own future through academic and professional advancement. Becoming a registered Chartered Accountant was a pragmatic choice, as opposed to being based on passion. But it provided me with a structured way of thinking and an advantageous entry point into the business world, offering exposure to different companies and cultures, so it proved to be a good choice. However, I quickly discovered that the monotonous nature of the role did not align with my active disposition. I thrive on tackling new challenges, creating solutions, and cultivating relationships. Although accounting provided a gateway into the professional realm, it served primarily as a stepping stone, allowing me to shape my trajectory within the industry.

By chance, I secured an interview at Ivanhoe Mines during its early stages as a start-up exploration company. The atmosphere and dynamic team resonated with me, prompting a natural, seamless integration. At the time, our team consisted of merely ten people working in the office. It was during this time that we achieved groundbreaking exploration discoveries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Africa. I have helped to grow the company from its infancy, from discovery through to construction and operation. Today, we employ over 20,000 people globally and our copper mine in DRC will be the third largest copper mine in the world by the end of this year.

“My career advice is to get actively involved and demonstrate your capabilities, then opportunities will present themselves.”

– Marna Cloete, President, Ivanhoe Mines

My deep involvement in the company’s expansion has instilled in me a sense of proprietorship, even in the presence of major shareholders worldwide. Throughout my career, I have worked with many inspirational and visionary mentors who really took the time to talk me through the intricacies of the industry. My career path exposed me to this wonderful global world of business that I had never experienced before.

Drawing from this, my career advice is to get actively involved and demonstrate your capabilities, then opportunities will present themselves. Your competence will naturally attract the attention of those who will facilitate your advancement. However, you must put in that fire power yourself so that the doors will open.


You mentioned the positive influence of working with people who inspired you. What key learnings did you take from this and how has that shaped your leadership style?

Leading a company requires some humility, also recognising and understanding of one’s limitations. A collaborative, supportive environment is really important to me, and I am committed to promoting such environment. Even as companies grow, it is important to keep a flat organisational structure and believe in governance, not the rigidity of bureaucracy. This approach ensures that members of the senior leadership team, and employees at all levels, feel empowered to make decisions.

In any organisation, it’s extremely important to have open communication and dialogue - people need to feel they have the freedom to contribute. Working alongside a visionary has provided me with an unparalleled source of inspiration. These forward-thinking people possess a distinctive thought process, they don’t take no for an answer, and they will challenge you to adopt their philosophy that there are ‘no limitations.’ It’s wonderful to have that mindset, that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. In fact, it is one of my key learnings. Another inspiring mentor taught me to never forget where you came from. Remain approachable with those you lead, that way you stay in touch with the workforce and create an openness for people to talk to you. I encourage people to be passionate and collaborative because operating in silos can lead to dissatisfaction among employees. Never underestimate people’s willingness to grasp the broader picture and acknowledge the significance of their contributions within the larger context. I think that is really important.


Leaders are increasingly turning to technology and innovation to improve efficiency. What role does this play for you in the mining sector?

The landscape of our business is ever evolving, and we are always looking for ways to improve how we do business. Our commitment to innovation is what propels us forward, keeps us current and ahead of the curve. In this business finding ways to increase efficiency is at the heart of what we do, it’s imperative. With every milestone we achieve, we are immediately looking beyond as our investors always inquire, “What’s next?” And that’s where innovation is so important. That’s when you need to question how we can improve the business and explore what tools we can use, such as enhancing metallurgy recovery processes through innovative techniques.

We have not only pioneered innovative solutions within our organisation, but also within our community initiatives. Take for example our Wi-Fi project in South Africa which not only provided local residents with essential online access and learning but also serves as a vital communication channel between our company and the community. Technology and innovation can be used to gain a competitive edge, but also for positive social gain. I was extremely proud to play a part in establishing the Broad-Based-Black Economic Empowerment (B-BEE), which has had a lasting impact offering significant advantages for the community. When the mining rules in South Africa changed, the regulators mirrored our broad-based transaction as the benchmark. It is a source of pride when innovation aligns with social responsibility.

“Remain approachable with those you lead, that way you stay in touch with the workforce and create an openness for people to talk to you.”

– Marna Cloete, President, Ivanhoe Mines


What impact do other practice areas such as sustainability, safety and risk management have in helping to create operational excellence so that the business is better positioned to withstand industry volatility?

In mining, these practices are integral to our success. Managing a mine is like being the mayor of a town, a role that encompasses technical proficiency, community engagement, health, and safety. It’s about caring for people and fostering an environment of mutual care and support. A culture of safety is a focus at all levels of our organisation. Prioritising health and safety in this industry is paramount, though it can be challenging when you’re bringing together various contracting companies and cultures.

With modern mining practices, we now uphold global standards and adhere to principles that encourage transparency and strict governance of our operations. Without support and acceptance from the communities, our success would be impossible. You have to think of it as a holistic model – it’s economic development around a mine, environmental stewardship; your workforce is your community, so it operates around your footprint, especially if it’s in an impoverished area. The way you interact with your workforce is how you interact with your community. It’s about creating an ecosystem whereby everything is interrelated and works towards the same goal. It’s not easy to mine anywhere, as every jurisdiction brings different challenges. But it’s about how the host country perceives you, how you conduct your business and ultimately what you do to improve lives. These considerations will get buy-in and assistance if you face challenges, even at legislative level.

“Managing a mine is like being the mayor of a town, a role that encompasses technical proficiency, community engagement, health, and safety. It’s about caring for people and fostering an environment of mutual care and support.”

–Marna Cloete, President, Ivanhoe Mines


As a leader in the mining industry, what are your top three key drivers for creating operational excellence?

First, it is all about people - the way you treat, respect, look after, and develop people. It is that collaboration and family-like culture that is so important. Second, you need to have the mindset of ‘I can do this.’ Be bold, be brave and you can achieve anything you want to. And third, you must be nimble. By this, I mean the ability to make quick decisions by responding to opportunities and challenges. This requires an absence of bureaucracy, so that you are not paralysing yourself with multilayered decision-making. Sometimes you need to act fast.