Q&A with Tony Hayward - Chairman at Glencore

Lynn Barlow
Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Creative and Cultural Industries Engagement | UWE
3rd January 2018

UWE, in partnership with Business West, runs an annual lecture series that brings top business leaders to Bristol. We caught up with Tony Hayward, Chairmain at Glencore, before he gave his address:

1. You’ve had a 30-year career at the top of the global energy business. What are your predictions for 2030?

I think if you look at a global level, the big picture is that we are going through a very, very gradual evolution.

In ten years’ time, not very much will have changed.

The one area where we could see some very significant change is the electrification of the automobile fleet – personal cars.

I think there is a lot evidence now that we’re approaching a tipping point, where the manufacturers of automobiles have created a product that consumers are going to want to buy, rather than something that’s been mandated by government.

The automobile industry has finally got to a place where they’ve got an offering that is sufficiently attractive and sufficiently competitively priced that people are going to start buying electric vehicles.

It will be small to start with but it’ll grow. 

There are some projections that by 2030 the world will be selling thirty million electric cars a year, which is about a third of global car sales.

That will be a big change and it will pose quite a few challenges for the world, both in terms of resources to build them and where the energy is going to come from to power them.

2. You’re a man that’s used to a few challenges, not least controversies. You were the head of BP, now Glencore. What do you need, to be the leader of a global company whose reputation might take a hit?

You need to be somewhat robust, I suspect!

I think confidence in doing the right things and knowing that we’re doing the right things on the ground, wherever it is.

Clarity about where you’re trying to take the enterprise. Confidence in knowing how the company is actually performing. Not being too influenced by the noise you hear in the media – I think there’s a signal to noise issue in the media today and that particularly pertains to social media.

So I think being clear about what you know and sticking to the facts and the substance of the story, not being distracted by the noise.

3. How do you help employees balance the noise?

The way I think about that is ‘how do you help your employees with a dinner party conversation?’, and that’s about clarity of internal communication. 

Having really good communication about the facts. Not the interpretations. Not the suppositions. Not the presumptions. The facts.

What actually are the facts here? What actually did happen? What has happened? What are we actually doing?

Internal communication through any sort of crisis in a large organisation, it doesn’t matter what sort of organisation, is really important so that the people in the organisation have got the facts, can articulate the facts and can deal with the dinner party conversation!

4. Energy does not get a good press, even if you would say they’re doing good things.

It’s bizarre really because it’s energy that lifts people out of poverty.

Without energy there is poverty.

With energy, poverty is generally, not always, eliminated.

5. Can you quantify how important reputation is to the bottom line?

I think it’s very important. People have talked about this thing called the triple bottom line forever.

As a large global company you need to be seen to be doing good things, so it’s a very important dimension of how shareholders view companies. 

There’s no doubt about it.

Dealing with shareholders is perhaps not so different to dealing with your employees. It’s clarity of communication, the facts, making them aware of the reality versus all the other stuff that goes on in moments when companies are having a bit of a tough time.

I hesitate to use the word crisis.

I certainly don’t think Glencore is having a crisis this week - we have some reputational issues that we need to deal with, which we’re dealing with. In this particular case this is old news being rehashed through a different source – it’s all old news.

6. This news story broke this week – when did you start your crisis management?

About 7 weeks ago!

Like I say, clarity of communication, the facts, what actually are the facts (not how people have interpreted the facts) and ensuring that people have the facts.

It’s true for shareholders. It’s true for the media – those of whom wish to have a dialogue. And of course our employees.

7. You do put yourself up for interviews, you don’t shirk the responsibility, do you?

We hadn’t done very much this week. I wasn’t not going to do this evening because of this, so I’m here. But I’m not here to talk about Glencore particularly, I’m here to talk about a subject that’s dear to my heart – the energy revolution.

8. How do you cope with pressure?


I engage in many sports – it’s my main source of pressure release. I always have done. My passions today are cycling and sailing. For me that’s always been a great pressure release.

I have to say I’m a Chairman today, there’s a big difference between being the CEO of a company and the Chairman of a company. It’s quite rare for a Chairman to feel very pressured, I’d say. It can happen but it’s unusual.

It’s the CEOs that are running the company, that’s really where most of the pressure in a big public company is.

9. Do you prefer being a Chair to a CEO?

I think they’re both great things to have done. I wouldn’t want to be a CEO today, I’m 60 years old now. I’ve done that – I did it a couple of times. 

You get to a stage in life where you say it’s nice to have a bit more time, more flexibility and not be so driven by the demands of others.

The thing about being the CEO of a big organisation – it doesn’t matter if it’s a public company, a large government department, or the Prime Minister – the challenge is always time. 

Everyone wants a piece of your time and people only want to talk to you.

They don’t want to talk to someone who could actually deal with it. They only want to talk to the person at the top.

So it becomes an enormous challenge of time management.

Enormous. It’s the biggest challenge of being a CEO: managing your time. You have very little of it! And almost none of it for you at the end of the day!

10. When you were graduating from university, was your ambition to be the CEO of a global company?

No, not at all.

I graduated with a degree in geology and I did a PhD in geology after my first degree.

I was passionate about geology – I still am, it’s remained one of my passions. 

I joined BP to work as a rig geologist in the North Sea in 1982 and I didn’t even know what a CEO did. Not a clue.

My aspiration at the time was perhaps to become the chief geologist at BP, which is a role we eliminated about 15 years ago!

But what I was clear about was that I was passionate about geology. I loved it and I think that’s really important.

Whatever you do in life, you follow your passion, because if you follow your passion you’re committed to it, you’ll spend a lot of time doing it and you’ll probably be quite good at it.

And it probably means you’ll be quite successful.

11. Undoubtedly you’ve learnt an enormous amount over your career. If there’s one thing you could tell a young Tony, as he was graduating, what would it be?

It’s what I say to all young people I interact with. Indeed I said to my son, who’s 27, and has been through the process of trying to figure out what to do with his life.

Follow your passion.

Whatever it is, follow it because if you do you’ll be good at what you’re doing. 

Secondly, don’t take no for an answer. 

I applied to join BP three times before they accepted me. I got rejected after my first degree. The second time around I can’t remember what happened, but it wasn’t until the third time that I was successful.

The third thing is take risks. Not silly risks.

If someone asks you, “do you want to go and do X”, and you think, “I don’t think I can really deal with that”, go for it! 

Go for it.

Someone gave me a little plaque a long time ago and it says ‘what would you not try if you know you could not fail’.

I think that’s a great way of thinking about how to pursue a career. Every opportunity you get – go for it.

This series of free public lectures brings top level business leaders to Bristol. You can discuss these events on Twitter using the hashtag #BristolLectures and view further content from Tony Hayward's lecture here. For more information please contact events@uwe.ac.uk.

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