SALT LAKE CITY — Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. is cutting its executive ranks following a catastrophic landslide at an ore pit near Salt Lake City. The shake-up follows a round of job reductions in lower ranks.
The company attributed the restructuring to sharply reduced production and belt-tightening by a parent company, and said cutbacks are taking place throughout the mining industry.
London-based Rio Tinto announced the executive shuffle Thursday. From the top, Kennecott President and Chief Executive Kelly Sanders will step down Sept. 1.
Sanders will take another position with the Anglo-Australian mining company that has yet to be determined.
Other changes have Kennecott shrinking its management team to four executives from seven. The chief operating officer, Stephane Leblanc, will do double duty as the company's top executive in Utah.
The vice president of sustainable development, Lynn Cardey-Yates, is leaving a job that won't be backfilled. The chief financial officer, Pat Keenan, will take a capital development role with Rio Tinto. The vice present of human resources, Nicky Firth, has already taken another Rio Tinto position.
None of the executive changes are meant to hold anybody to account "for an event they could not control," Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett said Friday. "It's about streamlining management and reducing the costs of the business."
The April 10 landslide loosened enough material to fill two-thirds of the Panama Canal, geologists have calculated. Earthquake monitors registered the commotion of 128 million cubic yards of rock and dirt sliding down a slope at up to magnitude 2.4.
Kennecott says ground monitors anticipated the slide almost down to the hour, but nobody could stop it. The disaster brought Bingham Canyon Mine nearly to a halt, but officials hope to recover with half of normal ore production by year's end.
Kennecott said its staffing levels for the near future remain uncertain. It has 2,200 employees.
The landslide buried 13 giant ore-hauling trucks, five of which have been recovered for repairs, Bennett said. To keep loose debris from sliding anew, Kennecott is using remote-controlled excavators, graders and bulldozers to reshape contours of the upper mining pit.
"We don't want to put people in those vehicles because we are concerned about the slope's stability," Bennett said.
In May, the company laid off 100 salaried workers. Two months later, 130 production workers accepted early-retirement packages. The company also took workers out of copper concentrator and smelter for reassignments.