In project evaluation there are two matters of keen interest to non-executive directors: the process by which an investment recommendation is reached, as well as the investment itself, as presented. It is sometimes mistakenly believed that Boards of directors are interested only in the result. That is not so. The process by which project evaluations are derived and socialised with the Board is as important as the result, sometimes more so.
Setting aside the gloomy predictions of the doomsayers and looking through short-term volatility in supply and demand, the overall availability of mineral resources more often than not exceeds demand. There are in reality more development projects in prospect at any one time than are needed to meet the market. Only the fittest will prosper, although some others may survive.
Optimism springs eternal in the mining industry and every project promoter, executive or entrepreneur has a convincing project development case. Some will create value for shareholders, but the historical evidence suggests that many will fail to meet the expectations set in their evaluation.
Boards of directors make the final decision to invest, or not, in a new mine. Knowledge is power, and on that basis the balance of power favours management. Management has the facts (or in some cases, what passes for fact) and the passion to invest. The non-executives have the power of approval – yes or no – but before making a decision directors must demonstrate due diligence, the essential precursor to project approval.
Management has a vital part to play in facilitating that due diligence process and in encouraging the independent thought processes of the Board. A closed approach by management fosters a negative, risk-averse attitude on the part of the Board. One that encourages an understanding of the rigour of the project evaluation process and the robustness of the result will allow directors to understand better the implications of their decision.
Knight, R, 2016. Project evaluation – a non-executive director’s perspective, in Proceedings Project Evaluation 2016, pp 11–19 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).