Strictly (Mining) Boardroom
by Allan Trench
Publisher: Major Street Publishing (2012)
Reviewed by: Julie Garland McLellan*
Whilst much of this book is about the business of mining rather than corporate governance per se there is enough value in Part 1 (entitled 'In the Boardroom') to justify buying the entire book. There is also a lot of value in the remaining six parts and the chapter on Mining Policy and Government is superb.
Allan can write. He doesn't do the self-conscious arty prose that demands to be savoured or the turgid prose of the policy wonks; he delivers simple straightforward writing that sounds as if you were standing beside him in the bar having a deep and meaningful conversation about the governance and leadership of an industry that he cares for deeply, but resists the temptation to dramatise or sentimentalise.
This, and the short sharp structure of a book cobbled together from a series of opinionated articles, gives the book an ease of reading which I wish I could copy. The insights leap off the page, pirouette prettily and then engrave themselves upon the psyche until you need them. And they will be needed; this is a practical and hard edged book with plenty of technical and economic rationalism and a few wry laughs along the way.
Readers of Mining News will recognise some of the columns, and be delighted to resume their acquaintance. New readers will discover a well organised collection of observations and interpretations that will benefit any director in Australia and any mining company director worldwide. The succinct nature of the pieces makes for good travel reading; it is an ideal handbag filler for a plane ride (and don't tell me real geologists don't have handbags) and also a good book for the bedside table although it doesn't cure insomnia and may, indeed, entice the reader to stay awake for just one more instalment.
The underlying theme, if a book as eclectic as this could have one theme, is that there is often a gap in the understanding between management and the technical specialists who drive the company. The wider the gap; the bigger the chance of failure. This book skirts both sides of the chasm between managers or directors and geologists or other fieldworkers and builds some good bridges which readers may choose to cross.
For any hapless legal or accounting professional encumbered with the notion that a small mining board is an ideal place to start building a board portfolio, the book is a necessary survival guide. For others who just want to be better directors or to understand more about the fascinating industry that has powered Australia's economic performance and, hopefully, will continue to do so in the future (read part 7 very carefully) this is that rarely unearthed treasure - a well-reasoned, clearly stated guide from an experienced and erudite director - that will entertain and educate as well as any boardroom dilemma.
For those of you who actually buy this book, can I make it perfectly clear that I am not the Julie referred to on page 23. I hope I am better characterised two paragraphs further into the book. If I am not, then that is certainly my aspiration and something I devote much of my life working toward.
For those of you who have no intention of buying the book (heaven forbid an author should make an honest living) I hope I have explained some of the key points enough so that know what you are missing (unless you get your company to buy it for all directors or order a copy from your local library). This book is an exceptional gem; almost as rare as a perfectly compliant mining company board or a core full of diamonds from the first drill hole.
* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of "Presenting to Boards", Dilemmas, Dilemmas: Practical Case Studies for Company Directors, "The Director's Dilemma", "All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector" and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.