Controlling His Destiny
Janine S. Creager
January 23, 2012
In Kelly Saunders’ mind, safety comes first—every time. As president and CEO of Kennecott Utah Copper, Saunders can explain how the company bounced back after copper prices dropped from an all time high of $4.20 in June 2008 to $1.30 just six months later, leading into Kennecott’s most productive year ever.
But that’s not priority information to Saunders. Rather she begins every interview with a “safety share,” a chance to talk about the importance of safety in the workplace and in daily life, as well.
“One thing I learned is to always look for a way out,” he says. “You have to be paying attention and looking for a way out.” That attention to safety is in every facet of the business and even extends to the vendors who provide goods and services to Kennecott.
“That safety passion is driven primarily so that people go home safely at the end of every shift,” he says. “In order to do that, people have to be thinking about risk, thinking about the safe way to do this job, [and] what could go wrong. When you get their mindsets so focused on that, they use those same capacities to improve the business,” he adds.
Although Kelly Saunders presides over a large organization with professional ties around the globe, he honed his people skills on a much smaller scale. Before moving to Utah in 2008, Saunders spent the majority of his life and career in small communities, starting with an upbringing on a farm in central Indiana. There he learned the meaning of hard work and a high level of responsibility. Later, after beginning his career in the mining industry, he lived in multiple mining communities across the Western United States and Australia.
“I think my focus on developing relationships around the community and the impact the business has on the community is very significant,” he says. “In the small community you recognize right away that it is your community, [and you recognize the] social, environmental impacts, taking the opportunities to make sure the community understands [what you’re doing]. When you’ve grown up in a small community, you practice that. It is very natural to me.”
This philosophy also extends to how Kelly Saunders and his wife and family spend their spare time, choosing to stay close to home rather than travel. He also admits an addiction to fly fishing, and good naturedly avoided revealing the location of his favourite fishing hole.
“Utah has so much to offer,” he says. “It is difficult to make plans to go somewhere when there is so much to enjoy here.”
Kelly Saunders ends his conversations in much the way he begins: focusing on safety and its crucial link to efficiency in work and in life.
“Those two things go hand in hand; a safe workforce is an efficient workforce and we were able to bring all that together in 2009. The hard work around efficiency and cost control paid off substantially,” he says. “As revenues came back, we were rewarded for those efforts. We are uncertain about the future. We’re optimistic, but we don’t know. Are we recovering from the recession? But we will continue to stay focused on those things we can control so that we can control our destiny.”