Louise Wrathall was recently appointed to the Board of Central Asia Metals (CAML), as the Executive Director for Corporate Development. In this role, Louise is responsible for directing development of all investor-relations activities and external communications. She serves as an official company spokesperson, which includes communicating and explaining the company’s strategy and performance to the investor and analyst communities. She is the first point of contact with the investment community, with oversight of key messages for investor communications, including presentations and industry conferences, press releases, and one-on-one meetings. Louise also leads CAML’s business development efforts, and along with the wider team, she helps to appraise the merit and fit of projects with the company’s overall strategic goals.
By Kathy Sole
Although the London Stock Exchange hosts many international mining companies, the UK is not typically known as a mining country. Please tell us why you decided to study geology and how you came to work in the mining industry?
It was a fortunate accident actually! My school began to offer a geology A-level for the first time when I came to choose my options, and I selected this subject and then realised I really enjoyed it. I couldn’t honestly say I had a career goal in mind at that time so when it came to opting for a course at university, I was advised to study something I enjoyed, so I chose geology.
My geology course at University of Liverpool was more academic than vocational and, while I still enjoyed the subject, I was keen to progress towards a career and believed that mining geology would interest me more than some of the other geological disciplines. I therefore chose to continue my studies with a MSc in mining geology from Camborne School of Mines which made me realise that I was very interested in the economical/financial aspects of geology. At that point I knew I wanted to pursue a career, at least initially, that related to the interface between mineral extraction and capital markets.
You have had a highly successful career, most recently as a Director of Central Asia Metals. Please describe your career progression and current role.
After completing my MSc in 2002, the stock market was not great for the mining sector and hence a job in financial industry was difficult to secure. I therefore chose to get some hands-on industrial experience and initially worked for Hanson Aggregates in the UK quarrying industry. By 2004, the Chinese reindustrialisation programme had transformed the mining sector and I was approached for a junior mining equity analyst role in London. As I was still very keen to get into the financial world, I took the job and then spent 10 years as a mining analyst, concluding that part of my career with Investec.
I had some great experiences during that time as an analyst, enjoying the ‘super-cycle’ that occurred in the mining sector in the mid-2000s and then learned a lot very quickly from the global financial crisis in 2008!
Having had a baby in 2012, I left the financial sector in 2014 to focus on Investor Relations and I was fortunate to secure a part-time role in 2015 with Central Asia Metals (CAML). I have now been with the company for seven years and was recently appointed a Director, responsible for corporate development.
Please describe your personal and professional attributes that you consider have been most influential in your success.
I think I have been very fortunate to have received a good technical grounding through my education and subsequent industry experience. My analyst career enabled me to develop a strong grasp of the financial aspects of mining and of capital markets, and I believe that understanding and balancing these viewpoints has helped me to further my career.
From a personal perspective, I like to think I am hard working, straightforward, and try to get on with people. The mining industry is a relatively small space—a fact that is always worth remembering!
What has been the most rewarding professional experience(s) or project(s) of your career? What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Without a doubt, my greatest accomplishment has been to join the Board of CAML. I have grown my role since joining the company in 2015 when I began consulting on investor relations for one day per week. The role developed quickly and, over the years, I took a lead on our reporting activities, including the publication of the annual report and shareholder and other updates. Three years ago, we began writing standalone sustainability reports, a process that I was privileged to lead. More recently, my role has also included business development and I was delighted to join the Board in 2022.
What has been most challenging in your career?
The biggest professional challenge I have faced was re-directing my career after I had my son, Joe, and subsequently left Investec. I returned to work after maternity leave when Joe was nine months old and left the analyst job when he was two. The hours required and the very early morning starts in the financial services sector made it difficult for me to spend as much time with Joe as I wanted to. As a result, I chose to leave my role as an analyst, which was not a decision I took lightly, given that it was a job I had thoroughly enjoyed. After initially consulting for a year or so I joined CAML in 2015 and I have never looked back!
As a leader in this industry, working with a variety of stakeholders ranging from bankers, investors, journalists, government ministers, corporate executives, board members, to technical staff, please share your leadership philosophy and how you manage diversity in the workplace.
In communicating and liaising with stakeholders, honesty and transparency are absolutely essential to building trust. I set myself high standards and try to lead by example as I believe these are the key attributes of a leader. ‘People skills’ are really important in leadership, and I believe in being as straightforward and clear with team members as possible.
We are very fortunate to have a diverse workplace in our London head office, with over 50% women and team members from a variety of countries. Gender diversity is one of our key focus areas and we have set ourselves targets to improve at our operational sites where gender diversity is more of a challenge. We have formed diversity and inclusion committees to discuss how we can make ourselves a more attractive employer to women.
What has been your experience as a woman working in the mining sector and in banking and investment related to the mining industry? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry? Did you have mentors or sponsors that helped you on the way?
Having gained experience from an early age in what were predominantly male-dominated education courses and employment, I may perhaps have subconsciously adapted somewhat. That said, I think I have thrived in mining and investment banking environments, which I suppose do have some similarities in this regard. While I have occasionally experienced what could be called ‘discrimination’, this has typically been in the form of ill-thought through comments and assumptions, as opposed to anything more sinister that I feel has adversely affected my career.
I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some senior colleagues who I would refer to as mentors, both of whom are front of mind for me when I look back over my career. The first of these was the quarry manager in my graduate role, as I know he purposefully put me in situations which were out of my comfort zone. As a result, I found myself managing people who were much more experienced and much older than me, and I realised then that the more uncomfortable I felt, the quicker I learned. I was also fortunate to work for a fantastic mining analyst who was an amazing mentor to me. Again, this period represented a steep learning curve for me during my role as a mining analyst and I have no doubt his advice and help made me better at my job.
You have been involved in several diverse senior management roles and as a member of the Board. Do you believe that the presence of women in significant strategic and operational roles influences the ultimate success of a company? Does a more diverse Board lead to better or different decisions?
A conscious focus on diversity is needed in an industry such as mining, which has been traditionally male-dominated; however, this must focus on “talented diversity” and not just on diversity itself. Some amount of ‘levelling up’ is required to ensure that roles are available and possible for all interested and capable parties. In my view, diversity does make sound business sense because diversity of thought results in the generation of new ideas and perspectives, and ensures that strategies and decisions are taken in a more holistic manner, thus improving performance and outcomes.
Do you have any positive lessons that you can share from the global pandemic experience? How will the constraints of the last two years shape the world of work in the mining industry moving forward?
I think that working through the global pandemic was a lesson in being adaptable and being able to adjust to the situation in which we all found ourselves. My initial fear was how I was going to effectively fulfil the investor relations part of my role without meeting people face-to-face, hence I redoubled my efforts to ensure we were still visible and accessible to investors despite working from home. As we all know, the world has adjusted and, while there is still no substitution for seeing people face to face, I believe we have now benefitted from the flexibility offered by video calls, online webinars, and other virtual events as they maximise our work time and cut down unnecessary travel. This especially benefits parents like myself who otherwise struggle to balance time with family.
Do you have any advice to young women starting out in their careers? What do you wish you’d known when you were 25?
My advice to young women or men joining the industry is to work hard, network a lot, and ask lots of what you might think of as silly questions! The mining industry is a small place, therefore it is good to develop a reputation for working hard and to take advantage of opportunities to create contacts. I believe these two factors are vital for career development, but also ensure the social aspects of the work are enjoyable as well. I still ask lots of questions, but I suppose it does get harder the older you are, so definitely ask all the really silly ones as soon as you can!
Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?
I do not have any secret talents, sadly! My favourite pastime is walking/hiking, and my favourite place to do that is the Lake District. I grew up in the northwest of England, where my family and some really good friends still live, hence I like to spend time there when I can. My husband and I appear to have successfully instilled a love of walking and hiking in our son who also enjoys our outdoor adventures, as does our little dog!