natascha viljoen
The incoming Amplats CEO, Natascha Viljoen. Photo: Anglo American
  • Amplats has a new CEO, Natascha Viljoen.
  • She was previously the head of processing at Anglo American, and has earned a reputation as a metallurgist and turnaround specialist over the past three decades.
  • Viljoen spent a lot of time at a mine while growing up in Klerksdorp.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA's home page.

Anglo Platinum (Amplats) has appointed Natascha Viljoen as its new CEO, to replace Chris Griffith, who quit after more than seven years to pursue “other career opportunities”.

The 49-year old Viljoen has been in charge of all of Anglo American smelting and refining plants around the world,  as the company’s head of processing, since 2014.  She will officially take over as CEO of Amplats in April.

Here’s what we know about her:

She grew up on mines 

Viljoen’s father worked as a shift manager at a mine in Klerksdorp, and she often went with him to work.

She matriculated from Hoërskool Klerksdorp in 1987 and studied engineering at the Northwest University in Potchefstroom. Later she would receive an executive MBA (cum laude) from the University of Cape Town.

Viljoen started her career at Iscor

Her first job, in a career spanning almost three decades in the mining industry, was as a  metallurgical engineer  at the then state-owned steel company Iscor.

She eventually also worked at AngloGold and then, in 2003 was part of a team who started BHP’s Klipspruit coal mine in Mpumalanga, “with minimum capital”. She later became the general manager of the mine.

She joined Lonmin in 2008, and was based at the Marikana mine for the next six years.

She earned a reputation as a turnaround specialist while at Lonmin

Viljoen started her stint at Marikana in charge of eight concentrators (which produce platinum in concentrate form), with a 14.4mtpa capacity. She is credited with turning the unit around. According to Viljoen, her team took this division from the lowest historical performance to the best historical performance over a three-year period.

She was then promoted to head the entire processing division – concentrators, smelting and refining - of Lonmin.

At the time, Lonmin had big problems with their smelters – which Viljoen solved, an industry commentator told Business Insider.

Following the 2012 massacre of Marikana workers, the company was in turmoil and Viljoen was tasked with other responsibilities including communication and stakeholder relations, as well as sustainability.

According to Amplats chair Norman Mbazima, Viljoen (in her role at Anglo) has been helping to lead the changes required to transform the performance of – and commercial value from – Amplats’ processing operations.

Viljoen is also seen as a gifted metallurgist

Viljoen recently received an award  for her work in developing “coarse particle recovery” technology which enables the separation of metals from rock using a fraction of the energy and water of traditional methods, while increasing throughput and productivity.

"She is a brilliant metallurgist, and she is also a very balanced and friendly person,” an acquaintance says.

She will move from Australia to Joburg

Viljoen is married, with two children. She currently lives in Brisbane, but from April, she will be based in Johannesburg and work at Anglo Platinum’s head office in downtown Johannesburg.

Viljoen wants to ‘re-imagine’ Amplats

“I feel really excited to take on my new role at Anglo American Platinum and I am fortunate to inherit a business in such a strong position,” Viljoen said in a statement on Thursday. “Chris Griffith has reshaped our PGMs portfolio to be fit for the future and I believe we now have an opportunity to re-imagine how we operate – in our mines and our host communities. It is also our responsibility to build upon the wide variety of applications for our platinum group metals that already play a critical role in so many areas of modern life, from clean transport and energy, to health and jewellery, of course.”

Seleho Tsatsi, an investment analyst at Anchor Capital, believes Viljoen’s biggest challenge in the immediate term will be capital allocation.

In its last set of results, Amplats reported a record profit – thanks in part to rocketing palladium prices.

Read: The price of palladium is absolutely exploding – here’s why that's good news for South Africa

The company currently sits on net cash of R17.3 billion.

“Amplats is generating significant free cash flow. That gives the company the ability to go in many different directions. It could go on an acquisition spree. It could reinvest heavily back into the business. It could aggressively return cash back to shareholders.” Tsatsi said.

Or perhaps Viljoen decides on some combination of all three, he says. “Deciding on which path she wants to take Amplats down is both an exciting opportunity and a challenge.”

She follows Ronaldo – and Dali Mpofu

Viljoen joined Twitter towards the end of last year, and follows only a handful of individuals – including Hillary Clinton, Cristiano Ronaldo and the former EFF chairperson Dali Mpofu

She has a single tweet to her name:

She is one of the first female CEOs in mining

The last big female appointment was Cynthia Carroll, who served as Anglo American’s former CEO between 2007 and 2012.

Measured according to Amplats’ revenue, Viljoen could theoretically rank among the top 45 most powerful businesswomen in the world.

Compiled by Helena Wasserman

The article was corrected to remove a reference to Viljoen spending time underground with her father at the mine where he was working.