MACIG Connect Series
Xavier Jack de Longueville (XJL): Robinson is a British company founded in 1982 in London. We work in 65 countries and have been present in the DRC for 10 years. It has not always been an easy ride. The DRC is a difficult country to operate in, and finding the right people to manage your company can be challenging. I used to run a company specializing in crisis management in Europe. However, what would be considered a crisis in Europe is simply part of the day-to-day reality here. There are huge opportunities in the DRC but sometimes the hurdles to jump over can be equally sizeable.
What are the main services that Robinson International offers in the DRC? Is there a particular focus on the mining sector?
XJL: Right now, we run the only ISO-certified lab in the country. Our services range from initial sampling to lab analysis for both metals and fuels, and we can also carry out environmental studies for soil and water. We do environmental studies not only for the miners but also for individuals. If miners want to drill their own well, we can tell them whether or not their water is polluted. We are in the process of acquiring new equipment that will allow us to perform more detailed analysis.
Accuracy is of paramount importance when it comes to metal analysis. Buyers need to know the exact amount and purity of the material that they are purchasing. To ensure total precision, we measure variables such as humidity so as to discount the added weight of the moisture from the stated weight of the product.
Are you looking to expand Robinson’s footprint outside of Lubumbashi?
XJL: In 2015, we will be formally opening our new lab in Kolwezi. The idea behind this venture is to be closer to the mining companies that surround the town. Our target market is the small to medium-sized mines, as most of the larger mines prefer to work in Lubumbashi, where their head offices and export houses are located. In Kolwezi, we will be focusing solely on providing analytical services and certifying that the cargo on a truck matches the manifest. To ensure our own independent integrity, we do not want to move into transport, reselling, or any other business area.
As copper prices have continued to slide over the past year, have you seen a drop in demand from explo-ration companies?
XJL: Although copper prices are down, we still see a considerable amount of activity from exploration com-panies. Early stage exploration in particular has not been affected by the slowdown. Many investors are keen to identify targets so they are ready to develop projects when prices eventually rebound and the political situation settles down after the election.
The DRC is not renowned for the stringency of its regulations or oversight. In this context how important is a high level testing service?
XJL: As we are ISO-certified, we are obliged to do everything by the book. We pride ourselves on our transparency but unfortunately not everyone is interested in such a high level of service. There are a wide variety of miners here and they operate in different ways. Some mines prefer to be more discrete and do their best to avoid any attention. They tend to be less interested in high-level analytical and certification services because purity is not a major issue for them; the buyers are often part of the same group, if not the same family.
In terms of natural resources, the DRC ranks among the richest countries in the world yet only a fraction of this potential has been developed. What would you suggest has been the main factor holding the country back?
XJL: At the Mining Indaba 2015, Tony Blair gave a speech about development and identified the main set-back for developing countries as a lack of good governance. Without good government a country cannot move forward. With the growth of the mining industry, the government now has much higher tax revenues at its disposal, and we can see the fruits of this increased tax base in the form of improved local infrastructure. The DRC has undoubtedly faced its challenges in the past but we are seeing great strides being made in regional and national development.
How do you hope to further develop Robinson International’s business here in the DRC?
XJL: We are very ambitious for the future. The market here is huge, and, as the only ISO-certified lab in Katanga, Robinson International is in a very strong position. The poor reputation of other certification labs here in the DRC has led some miners to go to Zambia for their sampling requirements. Now, we must demonstrate that there is a high level service here.
In parallel with the metal analysis, we want to develop our fuel analysis services. We are able to inform mine operators exactly how much time that they have before they should replace the oil in their equipment. A full oil change can cost up to $30,000. On the other hand, leaving an oil change too long can result in damage to the machines. With downtime costs on the most valuable equipment running as high as $66,000 per hour, it is crucial to get the balance right.
This interview was part of research being conducted by GBR for its upcoming Mining in Africa Country Investment Guide (MACIG) 2016. To participate in this report, please contact Molly Concannon at firstname.lastname@example.org.