11/06/2008 - 22:00

Cransberg holds the credibility card

11/06/2008 - 22:00

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The top job at Alcoa Inc in Australia brings with it an instant public role that few other chief executives would have to take on.

Cransberg holds the credibility card

The top job at Alcoa Inc in Australia brings with it an instant public role that few other chief executives would have to take on.

For Alan Cransberg that included being thrown into the middle of the world's biggest takeover, when Alcoa and Chinalco teamed up to take a big position in Rio Tinto Ltd, which is being targeted by BHP Billiton Ltd.

It was during Mr Cransberg's first week of the job that he had to front a media pack in Sydney to explain the US-based company's involvement with the Chinese to create a potential blocking stake against BHP.

He admits it was a big occasion, though he said he was not intimidated by the publicity.

"Someone said 'normally movie stars get this many cameras'," Mr Cransberg jokes.

"I am pretty relaxed in that environment, you are always well briefed and cameras don't scare me."

But the Australian Alcoa boss also emphasised the purpose of that exposure, ensuring the Australian public understood the intent of the deal.

"If you are in these positions you have to be prepared to represent not only your interests in Australia but also interests external to Australia," Mr Cransberg told WA Business News.

More recently, Mr Cransberg has been thrust back into the public policy debate as a result of the gas shortages created by the explosion on Varanus Island. He believes WA needs a long-term energy policy.

His views are not those of just any businessman. Alcoa holds a special place in Western Australia. It is much more than a big miner that has been operating for decades.

It is also one of the few real processors of minerals, doing the much sought after value-adding that politicians of all persuasions want to see.

It operates closer to major population centres than almost any other miner and has also been a leader in environmental rehabilitation, which has won it plaudits for corporate leadership. Despite health concerns near some of its refining operations, Alcoa remains one of the most important players in the state's South West.

And Mr Cransberg is not the usual operative. He may have had a life-long career with Alcoa, but he returns to head the Booragoon-based Australian operations as a Perth boy coming home.

It is noticeable that the former Swan Districts football player's background has fast-tracked his positioning as an influential character in WA business.

Just months into the job, he has already taken a board seat on the Australian Institute of Management and been made a director of West Coast Eagles, the latter being one of the highest profile community positions going.

While he says he wants to have his feet under the desk a little longer before adding to this portfolio, it is still an extraordinary start, underlying the credibility of the executive and the position he holds.

Mr Cransberg views the Eagles as holding a special position in WA and believes that, despite its recent off-field dramas, the club has outstanding management practices that will help it overcome those issues.

"If I can help grow them and make them more successful, that will be good for WA, which has given me many breaks over time," he said.

From a management point of view, Mr Cransberg said he has learned a lot from his 28 years with Alcoa which, he said, did not have a culture of entitlement.

He noted the importance of relationships in terms of his career in Alcoa, where many of his fellow managers have previously worked for him.

Good managers, he believes, need to provide significant opportunities for discussion between employer and employee, especially with regard to a person's performance.

Mr Cransberg said keeping people in the wrong job was a mistake he had learned from experience.

"What you learn more and more as you go forward is it is really important to get the right people around you. I learned early that I was too slow to move people on," he said.

"In broader management positions you can't touch everything, you have to make judgements about when you are going to leave it to others. I think that judgement gets better over time, I think judgement about people gets better over time."

Mr Cransberg said that, as a leader, he put a lot emphasis not just on results achieved but on how people managed; in other words, their style.

"I am very focused on what people deliver and also how they deliver," he said.

He added he was a strong believer in Alcoa's mantra of 'not invented here', which ensures that good ideas are transferred across the organisation rather than idiosyncracies being developed and maintained at individual work sites for no other reason than they were developed at that place.

"I also have a lot of focus on doing basics right. There is a lot of money to be made by doing the right thing at the right time with the right quality, every single time."

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