Life at the rock face

Mining company proves that facing the abyss can be the making of you

In the current climate, experience and knowledge represent the greatest advantages for businesses in any industry. For Trollope Mining Services, a combination of these assets along with a considerable harvest of passion and ambition has been more essential than ever. Indeed, in the fight for survival the company has actually flourished, showing itself to be among the fittest mining companies on the block. Reassuring proof that sometimes the good guys get their rewards.

Brothers in arms

Trollope Mining Services was created 35 years ago when two enthusiastic brothers, Peter and John, bravely took their first steps in business. They started off the Trollope enterprise by tenaciously purchasing ex-military equipment from auctions. Using their farm as a base the pair then began to reuse their acquisitions on short-term contracts in the mining business, and the rest, is history but a history worth telling.

During those halcyon early days the brothers saw their business outgrow the farm, prompting a move down to Johannesburg. Here they focussed predominantly on the coal mining sector, while also venturing into manganese, gold and platinum. Since then Trollope have specialised in open pit mining; taking significant loads from the ground, drilling and blasting it, removing the rock and stock piling the usable material.

The company’s main facility is now situated just outside Johannesburg incorporating head offices and workshops. There are also bases in Thabazimbi and Jurmala. Every contract also has its own workshops and offices on site.

Going global

For many years the company’s biggest contract was with Xstrata in South Africa, however, when the crash came in 2008, some of the agreements had to be terminated. Ironically it is these cancellations that have been a catalyst for the company’s transformation.

In response to the global economic crisis the company started to take on a greater variety of contracts among the junior to middle mining houses. Perhaps most significantly, Trollope started to take its operations abroad, compiling a substantial international client base, with projects in Australia, Turkey, Spain and France. The workforce has also stabilised and risen to 1,000.

Managing Director Guy Hopkins explains: The economic downturn made us look at the bigger picture and consider the possibilities of trading on a global scale, he says. I think in hindsight it was a good thing that we were freed from the some of the long term contracts, as it enabled us to pursue other options.
In the past we were far too exposed in one single sector, with one single client. Now we have an impressive range of clients, projects in several different countries, a great reputation in the industry and a steady cash flow, he added.

Promised land

Inspired by the healthy position and huge pool of expertise within the company’s ranks, there are plans to expand within key African areas, notably Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. With the order book 90 per cent full there is also a solid foundation on which to approach other ventures.

From a financial point of view we are in an exceptionally strong position ahead of a lot our competitors. We probably went through the downturn quicker than anyone else, so we managed to emerge from it quicker and equip ourselves for the future, says Hopkins. Some of the other guys are still carrying old contracts at poor rates at not getting the yields or profitability.

During what has been a very steep learning curve the company has also had the opportunity to fine tune its equipment policy. All primary machinery must now be brand new, ensuring it has the longest possible life span, while also providing reliability and exceptional performance.

The result of these widespread changes is a fresh impetus among staff whose morale is at an all time high.

Family values

Peter and John are still very much involved in the company and are as passionate as ever. John is involved in the plant side, where he is currently mentoring an up and coming manager, and Peter is lending his considerable acumen to business development.

We are keen to retain a family ethos within the business, while still embracing core corporate principals, with structured systems, policies and procedures. It’s about striking the right balance, concludes Hopkins. I look at how the business runs on a day to day basis and, while it is very professional, it still has the spirit and personal touch of a family business.

The biggest test for a company is how it rolls when the punches are flying. Trollope refused to throw in the towel and instead came out fighting.
Trollope’s journey is an uplifting triumph over adversity tale and, after doubling its turnover in the last year, it seems like this story has many more chapters still to be written.