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Ousted Gemfields chief in move ‘from carats to carrots’

Jon Yeomans
Mr Harebottle was forced from his role at Gemfields after eight years - AFP

Ian Harebottle ousted chief executive of emerald producer Gemfields, is to take the reins at a fertiliser miner in South Africa as it eyes a potential London stock market listing.

Mr Harebottle led Gemfields for eight years until its largest shareholder, Pallinghurst Resources, forced a takeover last June and delisted the miner from the London market. 

The mining boss will take up the top role at privately held Kropz SA in March, as the company looks to move a phosphate mine towards production next year, and eventually a float as it aims to reach new investors. 

Mr Harebottle said the role was an “exciting opportunity” to promote an “underappreciated” commodity. “We need to improve yields,” he said. “I’ve gone from carats to carrots,” he added.

During his time at Gemfields, the South African-born executive is credited with growing awareness of coloured gemstones in the retail jewellery market. The company’s market capitalisation grew from £36m to £260m but his tenure was cut short when he led a futile bid to block the takeover by Pallinghurst, run by former BHP Billiton boss Brian Gilbertson, which owned 47pc of Gemfields stock. A committee of Gemfields board members ­attacked Pallinghurst’s unsolicited £211m bid as “derisory” after it failed to offer a premium to minority shareholders. A better offer from Chinese conglomerate Fosun fell at the first hurdle.

Mr Harebottle admitted that it “was a hard fight from the beginning – close to insurmountable”.

“Gemfields was like my baby, my whole life was dedicated to it,” Mr Harebottle said, adding that the middle of last year was the “toughest” time in his career. “We did our best, it wasn’t the outcome we would have liked. But I’m not a person that carries grudges.”

Kropz was founded by Mike Nunn, the mining entrepreneur who founded Tanzanite One, which was managed by Mr Harebottle before he moved to Gemfields. The project’s other backers include Patrice Motsepe, the South African billionaire behind African Rainbow Minerals, which has a 25pc stake in the Elandsfontein phosphate mine.

The mine has an estimated life of 13 years and will be capable of producing 1,5m tons of phosphates a year.

“My vision is not to run a single project, it’s to grow a bigger business. A potential listing is one of the ways of doing it,” Mr Harebottle said.