Pike boss Peter Whittall was a “megalomaniac”, who told lies and got his own way, the commission heard yesterday. Former mine manager Doug White – the sixth person to hold that position in just two years at Pike – described Whittall as “overbearing” and “dictatorial” in an investigative interview soon after the explosion that took the lives of 29 men.
Whittall “blames everyone else”, White told investigators, and “oversees so many stuff ups” – in particular the decision to purchase a type of continuous mining machines that never operated properly and caused major production delays. Whittall was Pike’s first employee when mine development work began in 2005, and was the key manager responsible for design and development of the greenfields project.
“There was a blame culture when I arrived,” said White, who started at Pike as operations manager in January 2010 and later became statutory mine manager and general manager. “It was always someone else’s fault. Rather than looking to find a remedy it was easier to blame people.” There was “no love lost” between Whittall and senior managers at the mine, who called him a megalomaniac. White accused Whittall of micromanaging – down to the level of questioning the purchase of a jersey for a staff member.
In an email to a friend in Australia three days before the explosion – by which time White had decided to leave – he said Whittall “did a number on the previous CEO” – a reference to the sudden ousting of long-time chief executive Gordon Ward, and Whittall’s elevation to the position in late 2010. Whittall was “still a dodgy git”, White wrote. He said it was “hard to work for someone who has made or overseen so many stuff ups and blames everyone else (he tells lies too).”
Management meetings “had a definite air” about them when Whittall was involved, White said. Whittall would publicly berate senior managers in front of their peers, in a manner that White found “disgusting”. One such occasion was the humiliation of former health and safety manager Neville Rockhouse during a meeting of managers, after which an angry and upset Rockhouse had tried to resign.
White had first thought of leaving as early as July 2010, after only six months at Pike, and then changed his mind. But a few days before the explosion he had determined to leave, following accusations from Whittall that comments he had made to stockbrokers had caused the company’s share price to fall. He was also angry he hadn’t been given the courtesy of a performance review and had received only a 2.5% bonus, when he had done reviews of 26 mine supervisors over a short period of time.
The commission has heard of numerous measures White put in place to improve health and safety during his tenure, but he admitted yesterday that the mine’s systems were “lacking”.
* Cross examination of White will continue on Thursday. The final witness to appear will be Pieter van Rooyen, Pike’s former technical services manager