CEO Profile: Jeyakumar Janakaraj
Jeyakumar “JJ” Janakaraj isn’t your ordinary executive. Since starting his career in the smelting sector in India, JJ has quickly become one of the most well-known names in the mining industry. A walking example of success, he has proven that hard work, dedication and the right attitude are key traits to help one thrive in his or her professional career. In addition, strong leaders who provided priceless insights also played a large role—and he never forgets it.
“I’ve worked through the ranks and grown through the ranks,” JJ explained. “I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to do things because of the mentoring from my superiors, which really helped to catapult my career.”
As the current CEO of Adani Mining, the Australian-based subsidiary of the Adani Group, JJ is forging a path for the continued growth of the industry, most recently through the Carmichael coal, railway and port project. Based in Queensland, Australia, Adani’s project is set to develop the first fully autonomous mine site in the world, not to mention the largest. With projected capex and sustaining expenditure through the project’s life of USD$16.5 billion, expectations for the revolutionary project are almost as high as the cost: 60 million tonnes of coal will be produced each year, while 10,000 new jobs will be created.
But JJ didn’t start at the top; in fact, as he explained: “I didn’t fall out of the sky and become CEO of Adani Mining overnight.”
Rising Up the Ranks
JJ’s career began in 1992 when he joined ESSAR Steel before transitioning to Sterlite Industries as a mechanical engineer of the copper division at Tuticorin in 1995. During his tenure at Sterlite, JJ held various positions including Chief executive officer of their subsidiary, Copper Mines of Tasmania.
In 2008, he joined Konkola Copper Mines Plc, a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources plc.
“I took over as the Head of Projects for Hindustan Zinc in 2002, and was responsible for the expansion from 0.16MT to 1.06 MT capacity during this period, when we became the world’s largest integrated zinc producer through 2008.
“When the financial crisis hit, I was sent to the Konkola mines in Zambia,” explained JJ. “I was the director first and then CEO of that company in the copper division in Zambia, and I was there for five years, but my overall career in Vedanta was 18 years long, along with three years in ESSAR.”
He credits the numerous opportunities received during his career as catalysts for his fast-paced growth.
“I became the president of a company in 2008—I was 38 years old. Without having an MBA, becoming a president of a company is fast-track growth. I was clearly being groomed because there were certain roads that my previous employers wanted me to take and I was able to get ahead.
“I got these opportunities because people had trust and faith in me. I want to give that back to others.”
People = Success
True to his word, “I focus on people a lot,” he explained. “One of my core strengths is allowing people to do what they need to do to perform. When employees understand the ins and outs of what it takes to run and maintain a mine, the outcome is usually far greater. You can only learn something by being thrown in the pool. You can't keep people standing up and try to teach them everything without putting them in the water.”
To assist in developing and nurturing young talent, Adani Mining partnered with QUT Business School in Queensland to open the doors for employees to become future leaders. Emerging leadership is a big focus for the CEO, and providing people with opportunities to grow is critical.
“I generally believe 20 percent of the leadership workforce will need a natural pathway to become leaders,” he said, “however, that's not enough. When you're in rapid-growth mode in a company, you need to nurture talent with the right methodology so you develop and expose more people through training and workshops.”
JJ believes that nurturing talent sends a cultural message to organizations that you are looking for people to grow.
“These projects look very challenging from the outside. But as long as you can see the simplicity in the approach and keep your focus on what you need to achieve, you'll achieve it every time.”
In addition to providing employees with the right tools to succeed, JJ is also actively involved in all aspects of operations, taking a hand-on approach to leadership.
“In projects, my style of management is not just engagement of the top but to actually go to the sites and the places where manufacturing happens to get into details of what it takes to make something happen. I don't shy from traveling: I travel frequently so I can get a feel for the project. That's been my style of operations. I don’t just listen to what I’m told in meetings.”
The Future of the Mining Industry
Despite declining commodity prices and rising costs, JJ isn’t worried about the future of the mining industry.
“Every commodity business goes through its cyclical challenges. As we all know, two-thirds of the time prices and cost go up- the price curve is coupled with the cost curve. There are always people not making money yet there is another one-third of the time during which everyone is making money. [These fluctuations are not indicative] of how the industry is doing.”
Instead, he explained, “The indicator is how the industry is becoming more efficient in all aspects, including sustainability and the costs associated for each mine. The other thing is the use of technology and how it’s playing a major role in making the industry safer, and therefore more viable.”
Rio Tinto is a great example of how technology needs to be driven forward, he said.
“Their Mine of the Future is a fabulous step in the right direction, and they’ve shown they have the advantage. You can see their cost of production in iron ore is lower than everyone else. Although others are catching up, they've already achieved that lead. They've shown the marketplace what can be done, and it’s a great model to follow.”
Although the mining industry may be experiencing tough times, JJ maintains a glass-half-full outlook and encourages mining companies and executives to do the same.
“I generally believe tough times are good times because that's when you learn all the good habits and shed some of the fat that you build on when everything is good.”
Likewise, “When things are good, I don't get excited because something always comes. I don't believe in doom either because extremes don't last forever. You need to find that steadiness. Mining is a long-term business and you can't run it on a quarter-to-quarter basis. You need to develop the asset to achieve long-term returns. You will have to be ready to take some pain in the developmental or transitional phase, but that’s just the nature of the business,” he concluded.
Part of maintaining that steadiness is recognizing that the fundamentals for success do not change despite an ever-evolving industry and marketplace. These fundamentals include people management, productivity and the cost of production.
“People learn very fast. You can’t have a structural advantage forever..
“However, if you can focus on the fundamental things and keep your [workforce] inspired, you’re going to have success,” he concluded.
Lithium producers bullish as EV revolution ramps demand
Rising demand for lithium is stoking prices for the electric vehicle battery metal, fueling long-delayed expansions that still may not produce adequate supplies that automakers need to meet aggressive production plans.
Growing industry optimism from higher lithium prices is a change from last year when funding for mines and processing plants dried up during the pandemic.
Albemarle Corp, Livent Corp and other producers are scrambling to make more lithium, but some analysts worry the recent price jump will not spur a big enough expansion to meet a planned wave of new EV models by mid-decade.
Since January, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation Co, along with other automakers and battery parts manufacturers, have said they will spend billions of dollars on EV plants.
U.S. President Joe Biden has proposed spending $174bn to boost EV sales and infrastructure. The European Union has similar plans, part of a rush to catch up with global EV leader China.
Those moves have helped an index of lithium prices jump 59 percent since April 2020, according to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a commodity pricing provider.
The rising demand “reflects what feels like a real and fundamental turning point in our industry,” said Paul Graves, chief executive of Livent Corp, which supplies Tesla Inc. On Monday, it said it would more than double its annual lithium production to 115,000 tonnes.
Graves warned, though, that “it will be a challenge for the lithium industry to produce sufficient qualified material in the near and medium term.”
Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, aims to double its production capacity to 175,000 tonnes by the end of the year when two construction projects are complete. Albemarle's Q1 profit beat expectations thanks to rising lithium prices. Chile’s SQM, the No. 2 producer, said its goal to expand production of lithium carbonate by 71 percent to 120,000 tonnes should be complete by December.
Australia’s Orocobre is paying $1.4 billion for smaller rival Galaxy Resources, a strategy designed to boost scale and help it grow faster in regions closer to customers.
“The next few years are going to be critical in terms of whether there’s enough available lithium supply, and that’s why you’re starting to see commodity prices start to ramp,” said Chris Berry, an independent lithium industry consultant.
The price gains helped Albemarle and other major producers, including China’s Ganfeng Lithium Co and SQM, post big gains in first-quarter profit and boost forecasts for the year.
Even China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp, saddled with debt due to years of low lithium prices, signaled that recovering demand should help it swing to a profit this year.
Forecasts call for demand for the white metals to surge from about 320,000 tonnes annually last year to more than 1 million tonnes annually by 2025, when many automakers plan to launch new EV fleets, according to Benchmark.
Still, demand is expected to outstrip supply in 2025 by more than 200,000 tonnes, so lithium prices may need to rise to encourage producers to build more mines. That could boost the prices consumers pay for EVs. “Companies across the lithium-ion supply chain are in the best position they’ve been in for the last 5 years,” said Pedro Palandrani of the Global X Lithium & Battery Technology ETF , which has doubled in value in the past year.