As my team prepared for the first round of judging for the MCA Best International Project Awards 2018, it gave me pause to think back to the original RFP response development that allowed us to become finalists for this very exciting accolade. I wanted to share the story with our organization, across the globe. In doing this, I’ve found it to be a story worth telling and sharing beyond our gates.
It’s the story of a team of people whom two years ago made their commitment to do great work, in one of the most unique settings of their careers, and never lost that commitment. They continue that commitment today. Regardless of the outcome, Team Mongolia is a team whom can be proud of what they have achieved – both our own Proudfoot team and our client team.
Let me tell you the story (briefly), of how we came to work with Rio Tinto and how it has changed all our lives and the way we work.
Firstly, you must understand that in Proudfoot we work in exotic locations as the norm, not the exception. Our people are away from home every week, sometimes 3-4-5 weeks at a time. 4000 meters into the Andes or the border of the Congo. These are locations I’ve worked at myself, and the rest of my team has worked in much more diverse locations – Liberia, Ghana, Chile, Arctic Canada, Kurdistan just to name a few.
But this location was something special. Global mining company Rio Tinto had started developing the vast Oyu Tolgoi (OT) copper mine project in Mongolia. Over 80% of its total value lies 1.5km underground. In the biggest financial undertaking in Mongolia’s history, the $5.5bn OT project will become one of the largest underground mines in the world.
And it’s a remote location. Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar is 550km away from OT. Temperatures can range from -30 degrees in the winter to +40 degrees in the summer.
Additionally, there are cultural differences. Almost 90% of the project’s current population of 3,000 is Mongolian – we were originally on site when there were less than 200 Rio Tinto staff – and the international workforce all have different approaches to work. The project we were bidding for, we understood to be a way for Rio Tinto to create a language that everyone could share – the language of integrated planning and the Management Control Operating System (MCS), something Proudfoot innovated some 72 years ago and has constantly updated over 7+ decades.
And yet, here we were, facing competition from more than a handful of consultancies, all purporting to be experts in something we had originated at the birth of our company.
Proudfoot is also a midsized consultancy. We aren’t IBM or McKinsey. We don’t have a machine to churn out tender responses that meet all the criteria of procurement departments. Most importantly, we are doers of consulting. I’ve often called us the plumbers of consulting. We roll up our sleeves, put on our coveralls (PPE) and safety boots and go to where work gets done. Our skill set is practical, hands on, implementation – we can’t write to save ourselves or to win business, as we’ve often seen when we submit proposals. We can’t write for peanuts! We are terrible at RFP responses because of our extreme skill in getting results on the ground and working through people, not academic writing skills. We’re the guys who put on their safety boots and hard hats and make stuff happen.
And here we were. A sturdy team of implementers, charged at writing ourselves into a project. We were scared!
And this was a largescale tender with a large-scale client team judging the submissions. I still remember sitting with the team in London, discussing the tender request. We sat around a table, with our international team dialed in – that sounds like we are a big machine, but it just meant that our specialist mining guys, whom were on assignments around the world, were asked to join the call and help.
We talked about what would be required to win this. It would require a full team to remain out of the billing cycle and therefore generating no income for us, it was a tight time frame, and we were not sure if we had simply been asked to make up numbers; given the client had come to us and had other consultancies currently working for them.
We asked ourselves, could we win?
Then one of the team said ‘But ….what if we could?’ And the challenge was on. We were still scared.
I won’t give away all the things we did that we hope are the reasons we won, but instead I’ll tell you of the nights, the weekends, the challenges we had. First, I was leading our Europe and Asian business at the time and did not own our resources globally. (I’ve since become CEO – this was an RFP two years ago) and two of the team whom we knew were the right skills and people to lead this work in Mongolia, were working with BHP Billiton, at two of their Latin American copper mines.
Both needed to finish their work there before we could release them to 1). help develop the response and 2). be available to meet the client. I should tell you it was my policy that we will not adversely affect a current client, by taking people out of their assignments to sell to a future client. (This is our policy globally now). We knew we couldn’t meet the criteria originally, of having Rio Tinto meet our key team members. So, I did something unusual (at the time – but I will always do this now). I wrote to the procurement team, I apologized, and I explained my policy. We offered to send our people anywhere, anytime, but not until they had finished their current assignment. That was risky. We were scared.
We then needed to send a team to Australia, twice, and get our BHP Billiton lead to the US to meet there. Between this travel, the work and various other things we needed to do, I blew my RFP budget for the quarter before the end of January. Like Rio had risked their business on the OT development project in Mongolia, on a tiny scale, I personally felt a bit of what their CEO must have felt. I put my job on this proposal. If we lost it, I would be starting the year in a very rough spot.
I recall the team, all of you working on the response around the clock, some of the requirements we’d not come across before and had to learn fast, and all of it was written and developed from scratch.
It was the most creative, invigorating, scary proposal I had been part of. And much like I feel today, regardless of the outcome of the MCA Awards, we felt we’d done our best work and learned, and laughed and scared ourselves enough to make us better. Developing the proposal gave us ideas and growth opportunities. And when the team won the work – we all had won. We all saw what a brilliant team was capable of.
So here we sit, a team whom together with their client have done brilliant work, whom regardless of outcome, should feel so proud of having done the best work of their careers to date. I should also mention, for two years this team has without fail or cancellation, run their global project progress call each Thursday morning. I usually hear it through either dialing in or sitting in the same office as some of the participants, and I hear why this assignment is so successful. I can only hope we get many more opportunities like this in the future.
Thank you, Team Mongolia, I’ve learned so much from you. Thank you for being away from home, family and friends, and investing your time in our client.
Additionally, any consultant worth their salt will tell you that the success of consulting engagements depends to a large extent on the partnership between the client team and the onsite consulting team. The Oyu Tolgoi Underground team played a major role in the success of this project, and I know its been an enriching experience for the team working with them, and the OT management members refining, developing and implementing the vision and strategy.
And to the RFP response development team and the MOS team – May you continue to wrestle chaos and win!
Jon Wylie, JJ Van Pletzen, Helder Santos, Cay Mims, Chris Jenkins, Peter Damm, Paul Batten, Jamie Joyce, Greg Moore, Stephen Suggett, Andy McDonald, Robert Wrigley, Goodwill Hlatshwayo, Terblanche Snyman, Nesan Govender, Don Counts, Tom Port, Hugo Nakai and Jacques du Preez. (I really hope I’ve not forgotten anyone!).
And of course, to Rio Tinto for their faith in retaining us and their collaborative style in working with us. It is our pleasure to work for you.
This is truly the story of One Team, One Goal and the Gobi Desert!
#Brilliantteam #OyuTolgoi #Proudfoot #RioTinto #Oneplan #Mongolia #Teamwork #Leadership #MOS #IPP #OT
*Image courtesy of Rio Tinto