'Iron lady' will define future of world’s top copper producer

An ‘iron lady’ will define future of world’s top copper producer

Laura Albornoz has twisted Codelco's arm before. She introduced a program to incorporate more women into the copper industry.

The future of Chile’s owned Codelco, the world’s No.1 copper producer, is said to be now in the hands of Laura Albornoz, the first woman appointed director, who played an important role in last week dismissal of CEO Thomas Keller.

“Codelco has had management issues that isn’t just down to the international price of copper,” Albornoz was quoted as saying by Bloomberg Monday. “We can take the company a lot further than where we have got it to now.”

The executive, a lawyer and former minister of the National Service for Women (Sernam), voiced her concerns on the management style at Codelco as soon as she was appointed in May.

"I have serious reservations regarding the management of Codelco, the entire administration should and will be scrutinized," she said in an interview with El Diario Financiero (in Spanish) last month.

She has said that Codelco can’t be treated like a privately held company because of the role it has in generating wealth in Chile, and how much workers feel part of the company.

“There is a very emotional bond. The perspective of a woman could bring something to the debate,” she said according to Bloomberg.

Budget decisions

As one of the newest members of Codelco’s board, Albornoz is gearing up to vote in the upcoming yearly budget, which is considered by the finance ministry every June. The copper giant invested more than $8 billion since 2012 and is expected to spend $5 billion this year. Without that investment, Keller said in January, output would drop by more than half.

An ‘iron lady’ will define future of world’s top copper producer

Albornoz is scheduled to visit the old Chuquicamata mine next week, where relations between Keller and the workers have been at their worst.

As a state-owned company, Codelco has often been in a tug-of-war with the government over its investment budget. Of about $100bn in profits that Codelco has transferred to the state since it was nationalized in 1971, only $4bn has been returned back to the miner.

The mining company is undergoing a massive transformation, trying to maintain profits from the world's largest open-pit copper mine, Chuquicamata, by extending operations underground. At the same time, plans call for turning the world's largest underground mine, El Teniente, into an open pit operation.

But Albornoz, who implemented a program to incorporate more women into the copper industry between 2006 and 2009, seems to be more focused on resolving labour issues first.

She is scheduled to visit the old Chuquicamata mine next week, where relations between Keller and the workers have been at their worst.

And while she hasn’t given away any clues regarding who Keller’s successor will be, she told El Diario Financiero (in Spanish) it was only reasonable to think  the head of Codelco will not only have to be someone who does the job best, but also an individual “able to reflect the government program and values.”

Images from Wikimedia Commons and archives.