South Africa: Geologist-cum-CEO Jan Nelson has high hopes for Copper 360 listing

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg

Posted on Wednesday, 15 February 2023 14:40
Copper 360 CEO Jan Nelson

The opportunity to build is what motivates Copper 360 CEO Jan Nelson, whose Northern Cape-based company is preparing to list in February on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s (JSE) AltX, where shares of small and medium sized enterprises are traded.

“We’re in an area where everybody’s missed the opportunity,” Nelson tells The Africa Report when asked about the company’s impending listing. “So it’s exploiting that opportunity, [and] suddenly you’re producing copper, giving more people work.”

For Nelson, multiple factors make Copper 360 a compelling proposition, including rising demand for the red metal’s uses in the green economy – renewables, electric vehicles (EV), and green infrastructure. Europe alone plans to increase its stock of EVs to 30% by 2040.

High demand and a sizable supply deficit have fuelled the metal’s price resurgence, with no signs of this abating despite the Chinese economy’s recent, yet short-lived lockdown.

The copper supply deficit is presently estimated at 5mt to 8mt, and that gulf is expected to widen deeper over the next 15 years. This is the window of opportunityNelson and his team in Northern Cape’s Nababeep, situated at the heart of South Africa’s neglected copper belt, want to exploit.

The rusting and desolate copper fields in the region, bearing silent testament to the area’s bygone glory days, are now experiencing a new lease on life. “Our vision is, essentially, capitalism with a conscience,” says Nelson. “[However,] we are not apologising for the fact that we’ve got to make money for our shareholders.”

From geologist to CEO

Nelson is a trained geologist, a field he hadn’t intended to get into. In university, he had wanted to be a marine biologist, but “for some reason I couldn’t do zoology and botany together,” he says.

“I can’t recall what the problem was. I either had to do an additional year of study or go and look for something else,” says the South African. Someone later suggested that he talk to the professor at the University of Johannesburg’s geology department.

Nelson obliged and had an illuminating conversation with the professor about plates moving beneath the earth’s surface, which sparked his interest in the field. “I don’t regret one single second of studying geology,” he says.

The Copper 360 CEO had his start in mining at Gold Fields of South Africa, then he worked for Harmony, “one of two junior companies”.

Along the way, Nelson rose through the ranks, picking up important lessons about “management style, management systems, and seeing how things are built by other people. All that comes to good use when you do it yourself”.

CEOs have a shelf life. Once they’ve done their job they need to move on. That’s not a reflection on you not being good enough.

Nelson had a chance to put that experience to the test when the geologist-turned-executive headed Pan African Resources, a mining company previously chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa before the president’s re-entry into politics from business.

In March 2013, Nelson stepped down as Pan African Resources CEO following the successful conclusion of a major acquisition that he had overseen. His departure surprised the market amidst murmurs of boardroom misalignment about empowerment.

“CEOs have a shelf life,” Nelson says. “Once they’ve done their job they need to move on. That’s not a reflection on you not being good enough.”

After leaving Pan African Resources, Nelson took a breather from mining. He opened a surf shop in the Western Cape. He also dabbled in brewing, building a brewery in Paternoster, Western Cape, with Shirley Hayes.

“Brewing beer and surfing are fun, but building mining companies and being involved in the South African mining industry is more fun,” Nelson says. “Once it’s [mining’s] in your blood you can’t get it out of you.”

He got back into mining when “there was a wonderful opportunity to get involved in the Northern Cape that I just couldn’t pass by”. The rest is potential history in the making.

Listing preparation

For the past six months, Nelson and his team have been hard at work preparing for the listing.

The first order of business was getting shareholder approval for Hayes’ SHiP to do a reverse takeover of Big Tree Copper to pave the way for Copper 360. With that out of the way, “we [have]] finalised all the documents for listing”, Nelson says.

The documents include a pre-listing statement that goes along with a Competent Person’s Report, pro forma financial statements and forecasts, which will go to shareholders to detail the company’s plans in terms of subscription and cash raising.

“The process takes you about six months. There’s a number of documents involved, but we’re almost at the end,” says Nelson. “We’ll be listing towards the end of the month. Shirley [Hayes] will be the chair of the company.”

The looming listing has created a buzz around the company, with many people showing interest and wanting to get in now, according to Nelson.

However, “one of our biggest problems will be to create liquidity because the company will be tightly held”, Nelson says. “We will make shares available […] because there’s a lot of retail guys who have approached us, who would like to buy shares.”

The listing, once finalised, will bring Nelson and co one step closer to their vision of creating impact beyond South Africa’s borders, he says.

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