This article is about a great act of leadership after the Manefay slide when the senior management of the mine helped change the outcome of this huge event by setting a seemingly impossible goal.
The Manefay Slide at the Bingham Canyon Mine near Salt Lake City, Utah was the largest in mining history. On April 10th of 2013, the landslide took place in two episodes, separated by approximately 90 minutes, where a total 144 million tons exploded out of wall and travel nearly 1 ½ miles – covering the bottom of the pit, destroying large mining equipment in its path and changing very shape and surface of the huge open pit.
The geotechnical experts at the mine had done a fantastic job of predicting that the slide would happen, which saved untold lives and injuries. What they were not able to do was predict that the slide would act more like an avalanche than a landslide which resulted in the mass of rock and debris traveling further than expected and doing much more damage than anticipated.
While trying to assess the damage the day after the slide, the general consensus of employees, the local community, the parent company, as well as the industry as a whole seemed to be that the mine would never operate again. After all, how could the mine come back from such massive damage.
It was less than 36 hours after the slide, and the mine management team was meeting to discuss the current situation, what we knew and what we needed to know. The mine was idle and although no was killed or injured, much of the workforce seemed to be in shock that the event did so much damage. MSHA (the agency responsible for enforcing safety regulations at mines) had placed the entire mine under a 103K Order, meaning no work could proceed without the approval from the federal agency.
About half way through the meeting Matt Lengerich, the Mine’s General Manager made an announcement to the managers – our goal was to be in operation, someplace in the mine by the end of the day. Our first reaction was – NO WAY! We pointed out that we could not be back in production by the end of the day – didn’t the GM understand the level of damage, the amount of shock, not to mention we were under the 103K Order? This was an impossible goal in every manager’s mind.
After listening to our rants and raves, the GM told us that he understood – but the goal was to be in operation someplace by the end of the day. This was backed up by Anna Willey, the GM of Business improvement who was attending the meeting. The manager’s reaction as just as firm as the goal and once again we repeated the reasons why the goal could not be achieved.
Matt and Anna stood firm and repeated – the goal was to be in production someplace within the mine by the end of the day. That someplace could be anywhere within the mine and did not necessarily mean ore production at the bottom of the pit which was covered by hundreds of feet of debris. This goal was set by the most senior leaders at Kennecott and it was important that we did our best to meet the goal.
At that point the attitude of the managers changed from stating what we could not do, to what would we have to do to be in production by the end of the day. Perhaps we were trying to show that the goal was impossible, but we started to put together plans of how to start work in the Cornerstone portion of the mine that was far from the Manefay failure and at no risk. Although the material was waste instead of ore, at least we would be in production. We also started to determine how to notify and prepare the workforce to start work by the end of the day and work with MSHA to get approval to begin that work. No short cuts could be taken, as safety was paramount – but we were working the problem.
As it turned out, we did not make the goal to be in production by midnight – the end of the day. However, we were back in production in Cornerstone by 1:00 am, the next morning – just 50 hours after the largest mining landslide in history.
The ramifications of starting operations so quickly were not only significant, they were long lasting. All of the sudden the thoughts of never operating again were replaced by what do we need to do to reach the next milestone, which was to start mining ore once again. The change in attitude was wide spread as employees, the community, the company and the industry no longer saw a dead mine of the past, but a mine that had a chance to overcome great odds and return to its former glory.
It is amazing that setting one impossible goal, and striving to achieve that goal could change the entire outlook and results of a company. From that point on many more impossible goals were set and people did phenomenal work to try and achieve them. We did not meet every one of the goals, but in two and half weeks the mine was back to partial ore production and in seven months it was back to full production. This was much faster than just about anyone though possible and very impressive for a mine that many had been written off as never operating again.
These results started from one “impossible” goal set by the President and CEO, Kelly Sanders and the COO, Stephane Leblanc. They understood that the importance of showing the employees and the world the mine was a viable entity. If people believed the mine was finished – then it would be finished. This impossible goal was one of the greatest acts of leadership I have experienced and perhaps one of the greatest in the mining industry.
This and many other lessons from the largest landslide in mining history are documented in my book – Rise to the Occasion – Lessons from the Bingham Canyon Manefay Slide. You can purchase the book from the publisher (SME) or signed copies are available through my website: RiseToTheOccasion.net. You can also join my blog and find out more about consulting and speaking engagements at this website.