Chile’s state-owned Codelco, the world’s No. 1 copper producer, has tapped Nelson Pizzaro, a former manager of its Chuquicamata mine with more than five decades of industry experience, to oversee the company’s biggest-ever $25 billion overhaul. Pizzaro, nicknamed “scissor hands” for his management style, enjoyed unanimous board support.
On Thursday, July 31, he inaugurated the $4.2 billion Caserones copper mine, which he helped develop, for Japan’s Pan Pacific Copper Co., alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Atacama desert. Pizarro, a mining engineer who also once worked for Antofagasta plc, ran Codelco’s Andina and Chuquicamata mines, both more than a century old, between 1990 and 1997.
Codelco wanted a candidate with technical management expertise to oversee development of two of the world’s largest underground mine projects as the company digs deeper to profitable ore. Ex-CEO Thomas Keller resigned in June over boardroom investment strategy clashes and battled unions over job cuts at Chuquicamata.
The 72-year-old Pizzaro, by contrast, has strong labor ties, in part from his work background. Codelco, meanwhile, hailed Pizzaro to lead the most significant strategy “in the history of the company,” Chairman Oscar Landerretche said in a statement.
Industry anaylsts were positive, too. “The challenges are so big and of such magnitude that Nelson Pizarro is the right person at the moment,” Juan Carlos Guajardo, head of Chilean mining think tank CESCO, told Reuters; Pizarro also joined the board of Antofagasta Minerals after Esperanza mine complications resulted in its restructuring.
Pizarro’s greatest immediate challenge will be the $4 billion transformation of the century-old Chuquicamata; Codelco is focused on transforming the giant open-pit asset into an underground project — an expensive, complicated operation where personnel cuts of 30% are forecast. But the success of Caserones, with its low ore grades and minimal water resources 13,000 feet above sea level, cemented the image of Pizarro as a strong pragmatist.
Pizarro also managed the Andina mine near Santiago, which Codelco seeks to expand — despite opposition by environmental groups and activists. He was later vice president for Codelco’s northern division.