Mining veteran takes the helm at RSV ENCO

July 2012

Modern Mining by Arthur Tassel

RSV ENCO, one of the linked enterprises within the RSV Group, has appointed Alan Wingrove as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO). An electrical and mechanical certificated engineer by training with 37 years’ experience in all aspects of mining, Wingrove is an internal appointment, having previously been RSV ENCO’s Chief Operating Officer (COO). Modern Mining recently spoke to him about the challenges of his new position, his approach to management and the outlook for RSV ENCO.

As many readers will know, Wingrove’s predecessor was Neels Engelbrecht, who passed away in January this year after suffering a heart attack while cycling in the Hartebeespoort Dam area. Engelbrecht was highly respected within the mining industry and his untimely death – he was only in his early 50s – was a major setback to RSV ENCO. As Wingrove says, “Neels was the CEO of RSV ENCO right from its inception in March 2008 and was successful in establishing the company as one of the leading consultancies and EPCM contractors in the country specialising in the fields of energy, coal and infrastructure. My role will be to build on the very solid foundations he created and ensure that the robust growth the company experienced under his direction continues.”

The transition for Wingrove to the CEO position has been seamless. AS COO of RSV ENCO he was familiar with every aspect of RSV ENCO’s operations with considerable experience of standing in for Engelbrecht as his deputy. In the immediate aftermath of Engelbrecht’s death, he was appointed Acting Chief Executive and was confirmed as CEO in May.

In a mining industry which has increasingly seen financial executives rising to the top management positions, Wingrove stands out as being ‘an engineer’s engineer’. He has literally come up through the ranks in mining, having started with General Mining in the mid-1970s as a ‘Learner Official’. His first posting was to Stilfontein mine in the Klerksdorp goldfield, where he gained extensive experience of underground gold mining.

In 1980 he moved to JCI where he worked in operations for several years. Recalling this period, he says that paste backfill technology was attracting a great deal of attention at the time. “I became heavily involved in this field, working with the Materials Handling Unit at Wits and then taking that experience through into JCI’s first paste backfill plant at Randfontein Estates,” he says. “That was a nice introduction to projects quite early in my career. From that project, I went to head office – I was still in operations but looking at backfill plants throughout the JCI group. I then moved over to JCI Projects. This division was then a hive of activity, since JCI still had all its platinum, gold and coal assets at that point, and I was kept very busy.”

With the eventual demise of JCI, its projects division was acquired by Murray & Roberts in 2000. “This resulted in my going across to Murray & Roberts and becoming part of Murray & Roberts Engineering Solutions, the company created in 2001 out of the merger of JCI Projects and EMS,” says Wingrove. He went on to enjoy a productive seven years with Murray & Roberts Engineering Solutions before joining RSV in 2008 as a Corporate Executive.

He was immediately seconded to RSV ENCO to take charge as Programme Manager of the company’s flagship contract, Sasol Mining’s Thubelisha and Impumelelo projects, Greenfield replacement tonnage mines. “Thubelisha was a substantial contract by any standards and certainly a feather in the cap for RSV ENCO, which at that stage was a very young enterprise,” recounts Wingrove. “It involved the full engineering, procurement and construction management services – in joint venture with GOBA – of a plus R3 billion underground coal mine, including the development of the shaft systems, the material handling system and all supporting infrastructure. At the same time we were also involved in the study for Impumelelo. Sasol Mining subsequently awarded the EPCM contract to the ENCO-GOBA JV for the Impumelelo project, a plus R4 billion underground coal mine and this too became part of my brief. Thubelisha has now been successfully completed while Impumeleo – which is a bigger project in terms of capex – will run till late 2014.”

Wingrove makes the point that the Sasol Mining projects were carried out concurrently with a third major ENCO EPCM contract for Total Coal’s Dorstfontein East mine (completed late last year). “This taxed our resources but one of the advantages of being part of the wider RSV group is that we can call on them for backup where necessary,” he says. “We of course had to expand rapidly in terms of staffing to handle the workload. When I joined RSV ENCO on secondment, the employee complement was around 30 people. It’s now approximately 100 and still growing.”

A year after being seconded to RSV ENCO, Wingrove became part of the company’s permanent staff and roughly another year after that, was made COO. In this position, he retained direct responsibility for the Sasol Mining contracts but also became involved in the normal range of management functions carried out by a COO. In addition, he steered RSV ENCO’s drive towards ISO9001 certification – achieved in July 2011 – and also took responsibility for the safety portfolio.

Reviewing RSV ENCO’s current order book, Wingrove says it constitutes a good combination of studies and implementation contracts. “The trick in this game is to take studies into the execution phase. We’re not always successful but generally we have a high conversion rate,” he says.

Despite Thubelisha being completed, RSV ENCO looks set to remain busy at the execution level, one of the reasons for this being its involvement with Australian company, Resource Generation, which is on the brink of developing the Boikarabelo open pit coal mine in the Waterberg coalfield. This is a staged project with the first phase targeting 6 Mt/a of saleable product.

Says Wingrove: “We have completed the Front End Engineering Design (FEED) phase for Boikarabelo and if this leads into the EPCM, we will be very busy for several years to come. Boikarabelo is a substantial project and could eventually develop into a significantly larger operation in its second phase.

Other current clients in the coal sector include Optimum Coal (now controlled by Glencore), BECSA (BHP Billiton’s coal arm in South Africa), Anglo Coal and several juniors, among them the companies developing the Mbila and Kangwane anthracite projects.

While coal is only one of the three focus areas of RSV ENCO, there is no denying that it has thus far been responsible for the vast majority of the company’s turnover – probably in excess of 90 %. Wingrove acknowledges this but points out that the predominance of coal work is primarily a reflection of market realities. “We are keen to get more involved with energy and infrastructure but the opportunities so far have simply not been there,” he comments. “Everyone has been anticipating a boom in independent power projects, for example, but this market has been slow to gain traction, due to the lack of clarity on the licensing of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and issues, such as pricing and connection to the national grid. Nevertheless, we anticipate that the IPP sector will show rapid growth and already some projects are being released for development.”

He adds that RSV ENCO is already involved with one power project. “As part of our work for Resource Generation, we’re busy with a study and preliminary engineering on a 45 MW on-site fluidised bed power plant at Boikarabelo to power the mine. We’ve learnt a great deal from this which will obviously stand us in good stead as we look for further opportunities in the energy sector.”

In respect of infrastructure, Wingrove says RSV ENCO’s preferred target market is infrastructure at a national – or at least regional – scale. “The type of facilities we would be interested in would be rail systems, ports and nuclear waste storage, to take a few examples,” he says. “We don’t have expertise in all these fields but we are prepared to partner with the right companies – many of whom we’ve already identified – and we can certainly manage delivery. One opportunity might be the rail corridor to open up the Waterberg and Botswana coalfields. Another is acid mine drainage, which, in a sense, is a national problem We’ve just been awarded a contract by BECSA for a water treatment study and we’ve also put in a bid to Gold Fields on a long-term water treatment plan. We already do a great deal of ‘on mine’ infrastructure. The challenge now is to take this work to a new level.”

On RSV ENCO’s approach to business, Wingrove says he has no plans to change the basic philosophy laid down by Hennie Read, Chairman of the RSV Group, and followed by Neels Engelbrecht. “This philosophy is that we are guided by a core set of values, which include integrity, creativity, teamwork and the principle of going the ‘extra mile’ for our clients,” he explains. “I know all companies will say this type of thing but we really do commit to our values and walk the talk. Our word is our word and we do what we say. We are also careful not to over-extend – which is a common fault in the project delivery industry – and we give all our clients the same attention, whether they be majors, mid-cap players or juniors.”

Another strength of RSV ENCO that Wingrove points to is the huge effort that it puts into setting up projects correctly. “We have a consistency in our approach and in the systems we use which means that our projects are independent of personalities,” he says. “Moreover, we also believe in deploying ‘hands on’ engineers on our projects – in other words, people who have come up through operations into projects and who know how mines really work. “

Finally, Wingrove emphasises that RSV ENCO is trading profitably and has a strong balance sheet. “We expect to continue to grow and certainly the immediate outlook for the company is excellent,” he says. “Further out, it’s difficult to make predictions as the global economic outlook is not looking particularly encouraging. But we are confident that Asian demand will hold up and with it the resources sector. Whatever the case, RSV ENCO has established itself in just five years as a leading consultancy and project delivery house within the coal mining sector – which is a considerable achievement, particularly considering that the company had to contend with the global economic crash of 2008 and its aftermath in its formative phase. Overall, RSV ENCO has proved to be a highly successful initiative by the RSV Group.”