CFO Charl Keyter: A strategist at heart

Charl enjoys calculating new strategies both in the Sibanye Stillwater boardroom and on the shooting range.

While people across the world were learning how to bake banana bread during the Covid-19 lockdown, Charl Keyter got familiar with the finer details of long-range shooting.

The Sibanye Stillwater CFO was introduced to long range shooting through the company’s CEO, Neal Froneman, who passionately advocated for the hobby. And, a strategist at heart, Charl says that he has come to enjoy calculating the precision ballistics that goes into the shooting discipline, including the reloading of ammunition and the testing of the different variables.

“There’s a lot of thinking and strategising that goes into getting the right accuracy, rounds and ranges. You need to develop a load and round that you can fire on the shooting range, and based on the outcome you return to the drawing board and see where you need to make adjustments to improve,” he adds.

Charl explains that long range shooting is very similar to finance: “When it comes to shooting, if you don’t follow the recipe, trials and errors established over many years by other people, you can potentially end up in an undesirable outcome. If the recipe says you need to put 40 grains of propellant in a casing, there’s a reason for it. If you exceed tolerances, you can potentially damage your rifle.”

He adds that accounting is also about accuracy and following standards, policies and procedures.

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Back to the drawing board
Sibanye Stillwater started out with three legacy gold assets, which were restructured for profitability and sustainability in the first couple of years. However, with growth in mind, the management team then turned their focus to expanding the company’s portfolio to the platinum group metals (PGM) market. “We wanted to build a global precious metals company,” Charl explains.

The gold company acquired Aquarius and the Rustenburg mines, followed by Stillwater in the US and then the Lonmin mines.

However, with international focus shifting towards decarbonisation and how that’s going to impact the global automotive market, the Sibanye management team quickly realised they needed to once again go back to the drawing board. “We realised that ESG would become a strategic differentiator for companies going forward, and a lot of work has gone into defining what is required for Sibanye Stillwater to be a ‘Force for Good’,” Charl says.

He explains that, because of the growing demand for battery and electric vehicle technology, Sibanye has started turning its attention to battery metals like lithium, nickel, copper, and cobalt, by acquiring Keliber, a lithium project in Finland, followed by Ioneer, a lithium project in the US.

“Although, initially, a lot of these battery metals will need to be mined, there’s also a case to be made to look at the whole circular economy of producing them,” Charl says. Part of this includes continued focus on recycling, and Sibanye has also bought a nickel refinery, as well as a small stake in a tailing retreatment processor in Australia.

Charl adds that these strategic changes are ultimately about building a climate resilient business. “In terms of output and revenue, we want to position ourselves to get a third out of gold, a third out of PGMs and a third out of battery metals.”

Calculating crisis
While Charl was learning to calculate ballistics, he was also learning to navigate multiple crises. “We started having Covid-19 meetings long before South Africa went into lockdown, because we had already seen the global trends of the pandemic.”

Again, the executive team found themselves in front of the drawing board; putting task teams in place and coming up with ideas on how to mitigate the impact once it came for South Africa. “As soon as we went into lockdown, we then refined that. We developed significant protocols, which we shared with the Chamber of Mines, and which then translated into an industry approach,” Charl says.

With supply chains being shut off worldwide, the Sibanye management team expected it would impact the business. However, when the demand started to ebb as well, the markets reached an equilibrium of sorts. PGM prices skyrocketed and at the same time, gold prices were increasing.

As a result, Sibanye Stillwater ended the 2020 financial year with a record free cash flow of R20 billion. “Our first port of call was to pay down our debt and to deleverage the balance sheet,” Charl explains. “We had some $350 million worth in bonds that we could call early.”

Sibanye has also been paying significant dividends over the last two years, declaring a R10.7 billion dividend in 2020 and a R13.5 billion dividend in 2021.

Additionally, the miner has built a cash buffer of about $1 billion. “We operate in a commodity environment where prices are volatile, so we wanted to make sure that we had sufficient cash and liquidity,” Charl says. “There’s some predictions that in the 20s we’re going to see a further two pandemics, so I think we have to be ready for this possible future.”

A family affair
After a long day of strategising, whether in the boardroom or on the shooting range, Charl follows a stringent CrossFit routine to destress, a pastime shared by his family. As a family they also enjoy playing tennis.

“We enjoy hunting with my father-in-law, but that has evolved into more long-range shooting now,” Charl concludes.