POLYMETAL INTERNATIONAL HAS been one of the industry's most impressive miners over the past decade. Not only has the company established itself as a leader in the industry's evolution toward greater sustainability and ESG standards, but it has shown that these principles can be embedded into an underlying drive toward operational excellence - production has grown 130% from 681,000 ounces of gold equivalent 10 years ago to 1.61 million ounces last year.
Former investment banker Evgeny Monakhov was hired by Polymetal last year as head of investor relations, charged with strengthening the company's investor base just as Polymetal was about to re-join the FTSE 100. He spoke with Mining Journal about his decision to take on that challenge.
Mining Journal: How much exposure had you to mining ahead of the current role?
Evgeny Monakhov: My background is investment banking and I had been doing that since 1997 with Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank based in London and Moscow. A big part of my work involved mining equities and I've done numerous mining deals and advised on at least a dozen mining IPOs, including Polymetal's premium listing in 2011 - I've been close to the management and the story ever since we put that out to market.
The interest toward the sector over my years as an investment banker was tremendous. I remember putting together quite a few site visits for investors across Kazakhstan and Russia, so I've pretty much been to every mine covering most commodities in that part of the world.
It's a fascinating sector and I've always been drawn to it because of its complexity and its scale. It is an exciting industry to join with opportunities to grow and learn.
Since I moved across, it's been confirmed that the values of Polymetal strongly overlap with mine: the corporate culture is based on meritocracy, responsibility and initiative, a flat management structure, ambitious goal setting, open communication lines, substance over form, delivery over promise, a drive to be the best in everything, alongside a great sense of camaraderie and togetherness.
So, I am very pleased to be part of that team.
MJ: So, what are you being asked to do, specifically to shape the Polymetal investor outreach?
EM: My role is to continue to enhance the standards of reporting and disclosure with existing shareholders - our free float is one of the highest among Russia-based companies at around 70% - and the recruitment of new shareholders. We feel a story of this calibre deserves more exposure and attention from the generalist side.
MJ: How are you using Polymetal's strong record on ESG matters to achieve that?
EM: ESG in Russia has been seen as a fad: you need to tick the boxes and make the right noises and then move on. When I joined Polymetal, it was immediately clear ESG was ingrained in the company DNA. There is a set of principles and views that is very much aligned with ESG best practice - it's something you have to do if you're part of the team and you cannot delegate it as management because it's an everyday feature of the work.
We're very happy to sit down and talk about this part of our business with investors - we've got a lot to talk about, we've accomplished a lot, and our plans are even more ambitious. I think the industry is on the cusp of a big change in the way it conducts itself and Polymetal is at the forefront of this change.
This leading role is an advantage but it's also a challenge because we're trailblazing. I field quite a few calls from peers at other mining companies who ask how we addressed certain ESG challenges and get our view on these issues, but we've frankly never had the luxury of seeking advice from more experienced groups.
MJ: What kind of lure are you offering to attempt to turn heads in the generalist investor space at a time when mining is, again, out of fashion?
EM: I knew I'd have to battle some stereotypes. Number one, it's a Russian company so dodgy by definition. Number two, it's a mining company so dirty by definition.
Fighting those stereotypes with facts, data, performance and delivery on previously made promises is actually a rewarding process. I enjoy the opportunity to right those views and prove people wrong, and that's something that drives a lot of people at Polymetal. I think we have already achieved meaningful progress in attracting generalist investors, but more can be done.
MJ: How important is the FTSE status for Polymetal?
EM: FTSE for us is a best practice benchmark. It represents a level that its members aspire to. Of course, you can come and go from the index dependent on your valuation and your market capitalisation so it's not entirely under your control, but at the same time we see this place in the index as a position we must collectively work to maintain by meeting the highest standards and requirements of the UK markets. It validates our strategy and it validates our approach to governance, along with the underlying principles of the business.
MJ: Are there any films of books that have had a major impact on you?
EM: Starting with something that makes me laugh no matter how many times I watch it - The Big Lebowski, by the Coen Brothers. I must have watched that a hundred times and it's made me laugh every time.
Then there's a book called Glory, by a Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov. It's something I read at a young age and it's about discovery of identity. At the time, it helped me to see myself more clearly and establish my own sense of identity. I'm very grateful to this day for that book in posing those questions and helping to find some answers.