Dimitar Tsotsorkov: Our Most Valuable Asset Are People

“Our company’s motto is: To Start First Means to Be on Time”, Dimitar Tsotsorkov, Chairperson of the Supervisory Board of Asarel-Medet JSC says.

How do you feel as a representative of a company from a small country who entered the elite Global Club of the SDG pioneers?

This acknowledgement is not a product of a random choice considering the huge number of talented young people and successful entrepreneurs from Bulgaria. We were rather pleasantly surprised that it was given to us despite the stereotypes about mining industry that it is obsolete, inefficient and muddy.  However, it seems that the whole world is becoming aware of the necessity for recognizing the company regardless of their industry which comply with the environmental protection and occupational health and safety standards. Our success is entirely due to Assarel-Medet´s team and above all to the vision of my late father who realized that we need to evolve in a responsible way decades ago.

Why is sustainable development important to you?

Sustainable development forms part of every leader´s system of values, because a person who has not realized his relationship with the environment and society, in my opinion, should not be a leader. I think in this format: not only what is happening today, but what we want to happen to the next generations.

Some people believe that the implementation of sustainable development measures by businesses reduces profits. Others share the opinion that this is beneficial for the economy in the end. Which group do you belong to?

I recently read an article in Harvard Business Review about a study of 500 public companies. It demonstrates that those who adhere to sustainable development goals are more successful financially  than those who emphasize on short-term financial gain.

A modern company cannot operate without thinking in a balanced manner about its compliance with the environmental protection criteria, moral and ethical standards, occupational health and safety. These standards will be imposed more and more strictly, especially now when we live in a digital world and every step of the companies is transparent to the public. Any company which fails to implement sustainable development measures will practically disappear and will be forgotten by people. No one will want to work with it and for it.

Your late father Prof. Lachezar Tsotsorkov was known for his concern for others even before sustainable development became a modern trend. How much of your mindset on these matters did you inherit from him?

We worked together for 22 years and I can definitely say that his foresight is rarely observed in business. It, in addition to being part of my DNA, directly and figuratively, has become part of the DNA of our team and our company. The results themselves and sustained success  indicate that this was the right path. However, I am not talking only about financial success, but also about success in the area of culture, education, healthcare  and about the well-being of Panagyurishte in general. Especially now that the whole world has started to embrace the sustainable development topic and it has become unavoidable, we are even more proud to continue my father’s work.

How much harder is it to meet the SDGs when you come from the mining industry?

Our company’s motto is: To Start First Means to Be on Time. We allocated  about 50% of the financial result on average  and have invested a total of more than 1 billion dollars in the most state-of-the art mining technologies, environmental protection and in society after privatization. This approach was imposed by my late father, who even 30-40 years ago was farsighted enough to see that this was the only path to long-term success. Therefore, it is now easy for us to do a successful business being among  the three deposits with the lowest copper grade in the world:  about 0.27%. In fact, our preparation started a long time ago and it is not really difficult when you start on time. The most gratifying thing is that eventually the whole society became convinced that this vision was correct.

Your award is in the digitization area. What is tour opinion about innovations and do you encourage their accelerated adoption?

As I said, it’s a matter of a long-term vision. There is no way to invest in modern technologies without allocating a large part of our financial result to it. If we had not done that, we would have already discontinued our operation:  the whole region would have been deprived of incomes, jobs  and a certain quality of life.

That is the reason why we participate in experimental and pilot projects. Such a project is the Paneuropean X-Mine which aims at digitizing  exploration drilling samples by applying artificial intelligence. In this way, waste is reduced and deposits are mined in more efficient manner. Needless to say, each deposit is an exhaustible natural resource and the better its development is planned, the greater its effect on the economy and society will be.

This is an example of a pioneering project, which does not mean that we do not constantly incorporate  already established technologies. I immediately can point out the complete concentrator plant automation  with Siemens equipment, the introduction of SAP Hanna which is the most advanced ERP system with Internet of Things among others as exaplmes.

What is the year 2022 for Asarel-Medet JSC considering the significant number of  crises that overtook Bulgaria and the world?

Indeed, we are witnessing unprecedented inflation, price fluctuations and political situation, since the latter also affects stability.

We have seen numerous crises so far and we have at our disposal many ways to mitigate the negative effects from these shocks. Copper price, which was high during the year, was of our advantage, but in the last month it has fallen rapidly. This is an indication of a looming worldwide recession  which is not good for anyone. Plenty of things are out of our control, but we are also prepared for a negative scenario this year. We have a resource set aside. We have a way to preserve our most valuable asset: people. We have already increased their salaries with a greater percentage  the  inflation rate and we are currently working on another salary increase. We are implementing the investment program according to the schedule which this year includes a concentrator plantmodernization and sustainable development of the operations. We are optimistic, but we also stay alert for worse scenarios.

What kind of a leader are you? How do you manage to motivate the rest of your team to follow your convictions?

I have been with this team for decades and I can afford more trust in the people I work with. We know each other extremely well, we know each other’s way of working. Therefore, my style involves a bit more of delegating, because I have trust thoroughly our managers’ professionalism. Of course, this does not cancel regular meetings and discussions of more complex topics. In general,  the team is doing great and its results demonstrate it.

The lack of qualified staff is a huge problem for Bulgarian economy. How do you manage to attract and retain quality employees at Asarel and what is your approach to this process?

Taking care for the people is our guiding principle and we pay special attention to our  employees and workers, not only in terms of their salaries and benefits, which are among the highest in the industry, not to mention the country. We treat people’s well-being in a holistic manner by considering the team and living conditions in the town. The living standard is not just about the salary and young people in particular are aware of it. That’s why we turned Panagyurishte, and this is  only part of our sustainable development strategy, into a town with a large number of cultural attractions, excellent healthcare and a whole palette of sports activities, in order to make it an attractive place to live. It is no coincidence that we have a huge waiting list of people who want to start working in our company.

And that is not all. We were the first in the country to introduce dual training, we have summer internship programs which enable young people to realize that we are an attractive employer not only in terms of high remunerations, but also in terms of our occupational conditions.

We have an internal professional growth program within the company and recently launched the Asarel Academy, a program aimed at assessing and training promising young professionals who are encouraged to evolve as leaders as well. Whatever expert knowledge one may have, it is extremely important to be able to work with people and show empathy while following the production schedule, because no matter how great our team works, it needs a gradual renewal. This renewal is part of sustainable development: people may be replaced, but the vision remains, because we train our young talents to work adhering to the already proven balanced approach.

Plenty of people believe that Panagyurishte will not be the same without Asarel. What is the incentive for huge investments in society that you make there?

I have already mentioned most of the reasons. However, I must say that one cannot look only inside the company, especially if it is large and possesses great capabilities. Everyone has already realized that the entire society should be considered. Everyone should evlove. In this way, the effect is multiple times greater.

Green transition is unconceivable without the raw materials industry, but the feeling remains that in Europe we do not appreciate the mining sector input in this transformation. The EU’s dependence on third countries for critical materials hinders its technological development. How do you think this can be changed?

Especially after the war in Ukraine, Europe has already woken up and realized that it is dependent on raw materials, no matter if they are metal minerals or energy resources. New technologies and green economy indeed are impossible without strategic metal minerals such as copper, nickel, lithium, etc. Unfortunately, the peculiarities of a mining operation site involve a long process of exploration of deposits, discussions with stakeholders and other time-consuming procedures. In practice, more than a decade passes until such operations are launched.

The EU must first explore and then develop its potential much faster in order to avoid paying quite a high price. One cannot produce cables, electric vehicles, wind turbines, etc. without metal. The situation in Europe is not at all enviable at the moment, but an awakening is being observed. In European terms, it takes place a little slow, with controversies in different countries. However, it seems it is getting started. We, for example, are part of a new European project jointly with the Bulgarian Academy of Science to study the potential of critical raw materials.

This is just the first step. Europe is very strict about its ambitious green targets, but they are not achievable in these short-term timeframes because the aftermath does not come out. Hopefully, Brussels will take quicker actions to change some of these policies and I am optimistic about that.

And shouldn’t the bureaucracy be eased when approving mining operation sites, because you yourself said that it takes more than 10 years to start operating a mining site in our country, while in Australia it takes months when all the conditions are met?

The logic behind Australia and other similar countries which are leaders in our industry is that if there is legislation in place that is strictly observed, this process should not take long especially in the digital economy era, where everything is transparent. When a mining company commits to complying with strict standards and their compliance monitoring is visible to the public, then the latter will become convinced that there are no irregularities as well. The society will not believe in lies and populist propaganda, but will trust measuring instruments from which the results are generated online.

In my opinion, public attitudes against mining are predetermined by several factors. On the one hand, there is a lack of information about the activities of mining companies, something about which we can say we also have made effort. On the other hand, distrust is experienced in the institutional environment in Eastern Europe in general. People think that something is being covered up, that there is some kind of ambush. I am convinced that greater transparency based on reporting tools will have a positive impact. I am talking about direct measuring tools, for example in a water stream, with its data being generated without human interference in the feed. We achieved this in the municipality of  Panagyurishte.

Dimitar Tsotsorkov has been the Chairperson of the Supervisory Board of Asarel-Medet JSC since November 20, 2017.

He was born in 1975 in Panagyurishte and graduated from a language high school in Pazardzhik. Mr. Tsotsorkov has two bachelor’s degrees: in Economics and Finance and in Computer Science from Richmond American University in London and is a holder of a master’s degree in Information Management and Finance from the University of Westminster in London. He worked as a sales and marketing agent at London Electricity and Shipping Manager at Glencore UK Ltd., London. He has been with Asarel-Medet since 2001 as a sales and hedging expert, after which he became head of a department and Corporate Development Director. He was a member of the Management Board of Asarel-Medet JSC since 2014 and  its chairperson from 2015 to November 20, 2017. Mr. Tsotsorkov is the Executive Director of the subsidiary company Asarel Investment EAD. Married, with three children.