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Purpose-Driven Leadership: John Graell

On his 30th anniversary as Molymet CEO, John Graell talks about how the company has become an example of sustainability and good business through its purpose of adding value to the wellbeing of people and the planet.


When John took over as CEO in 1992, the Chilean company had recently achieved the milestone of processing 13 per cent of all molybdenum in the Western world. Today, its global market share is 37 per cent for molybdenum and 70 per cent for rhenium – both byproducts from copper mining.

In the 90s, the molybdenum market was starting to take off with a big demand from steel, metallurgical, aerospace and chemical industries. And so, over time, Molymet set up operations in Mexico, Germany and Belgium, and established commercial offices in England, Brazil, China and the United States.

“As a young leader, I was attracted by the pioneering spirit of our company and the challenge of driving international expansion. Chile is at the southernmost tip of the world and we needed to be closer to our customers. But I really could not have done it without a huge level of commitment from our employees. We have been able to attract top professionals, which is so essential to our processes, and they really understand our reason for being,” John says.

This is how this company is driven by a purpose that today guides its strategic agenda, where the innovation and development behind its laboratories, with an open management approach, has allowed it to generate value in the search for solutions. “And this second half, full of cultural transformations, has also allowed us to redouble the commitment of all our employees. This is reflected in the low internal turnover rates, the high organisational commitment, together with solid and long-term relationships with our different stakeholders,” he says.

What differentiates Molymet from its global competitors

Molymet transforms raw materials into valuable products for other industries. Therefore, their main business is not mining but the value they add to products.

“Two things set us apart: first, everything we do is based on our objectives so we don’t get side-tracked; and second, we have an incredible team of people who have helped us to develop very specific know-how and skills.”

While his early years were focused on growth, the second half of John’s career has been about consolidation – strengthening Molymet’s industry leadership through innovation and an ongoing search for new business opportunities in strategic metals.

Equally important has been the journey of rethinking the company’s purpose. A quietly-spoken man, John feels that purpose is not something that leaders can impose on people. It has to come from within.

“Everyone who is linked to Molymet around the world knows that we are who we say we are – that we act consistently.” – John Graell

“In defining our purpose, we gathered our teams together to look back at where we had started. Then we looked at the difference we want to make in the world today and the legacy we want to leave for future generations.”

As one of Molymet’s executives, Carolina Lopez, says: “Our purpose was already there, it is not something we suddenly invented, but we had to delve into our history, look at the impact of what we do so that we could put it into words.”

John wanted the purpose written in plain language so that each employee and stakeholder around the world can translate it into their daily decisions and interactions – and this is how it is expressed:

We generate value for the evolution of humanity, through products developed by people who believe in the wellbeing of our planet.

He says it expresses a lived belief of wanting to be a company that makes a lasting difference over time. Its impact is reflected in lower staff turnover and solid relationships with multiple stakeholders. Having a clear purpose has taken Molymet to the next level of maturity and enhanced the integration of sustainability into the business. Its sustainability strategy has already reached 77 per cent compliance and its board has set commitments at an even higher level with their 2030 Sustainability Agenda.

What are the company’s growth plans in the medium to long-term?

Molymet has a substantial market share today, with one-third of the global market and 50 per cent in Western markets, excluding China. But John points out that when you reach a mature market share, growth rates are less important than a focus on constant improvement. He says they are looking at how to replicate their molybdenum business in other metal markets and leverage their expertise more efficiently.

What would be your key business message to face the current times?

Managing a company is about meeting stakeholder needs and expectations. John believes that, more than ever, companies must tangibly demonstrate that people, the communities around plants, suppliers, customers, authorities and the environment are indeed at the centre of decision-making.

“Everyone who is linked to Molymet around the world knows that we are who we say we are – that we act consistently. This, of course, goes hand-in-hand with understanding the environmental, social and governance impacts of our business, and we are taking clearly defined steps to address these with sustainability as our guiding goal.”

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