Obituary: J. Burgess Winter, past President and CEO, Magma Copper

We are sad to record the death, on Monday 17 September 2018, of J. Burgess Winter who served the mining industry with honour and distinction for 45 years – a veritable industry icon.

Burgess was born of Jim and Mary Winter on 3/3/33, in Magheramorne, a hamlet in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He graduated from Belfast College of Technology in 1956 with a Diploma in Chemistry and he was first employed in Carrick Fergus. He married Isobel Farmer – also an analytical chemist – from that town; and they went in 1959 to Kitwe, Northern Rhodesia to work in the laboratories of Rhokana Corporation (a subsidiary of Anglo American Corporation of South Africa).

Isobel and Burgess had a son (Paul) and a daughter (Susan), born in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) but now both married and currently resident, with children, in the USA. Sadly, his first wife Isobel died in 1992.

Probably the most characteristic feature of Burgess’ make-up was his affinity for people and his popularity in every sphere of life, from the workplace to tennis, badminton, basketball, golf, singing and music in general. Anybody would do anything for Burgess, including employees at the mine. He was a most trustworthy, likeable and charming person.

In 1963, Rhokana managers were recruiting metallurgical staff from the UK but first they surveyed the talent already available on the mine. As a consequence, Burgess was offered and accepted a transfer into the ranks of the metallurgist – a move that was to prove most successful and rewarding for all. His first assignment was in the R&D Hydrometallurgy Section but he was quickly promoted to plant metallurgist at the cobalt plant, and then to assistant superintendent of the smelter.

He resigned from Rhokana mine (Zambia) in 1972 to become operations director for a local firm contracting to the industry: but in 1973 he went to South Africa and rejoined Anglo American at its head office in Johannesburg, working in the New Mining Business Department. He was involved in consulting roles in South Africa, Swaziland, Brazil and the USA. Significantly – certainly in terms of Burgess’ career – Anglo’s Toronto-based operation (headed by Peter Gush) had at that time acquired a controlling interest in Inspiration Consolidated Copper Co, Arizona, and Peter was seeking technical and operating assistance from Johannesburg. As part of the help duly provided, Burgess was transferred in late 1976 to be assistant superintendent of the smelter operations; and this was the beginning of his outstanding North American career. He progressed through smelter superintendent and manager, and by 1979 he was Vice President and General Manager of Inspiration Copper.

Amongst many contributions to improving the company, one of his greatest was in the field of reform in employee-management relations.

In 1983, Burgess moved to the Kennecott, Utah Copper Division of Standard Oil of Ohio (SOHIO), as Senior Vice President Operations. This important appointment included responsibilities for not only Utah itself but for all other facilities outside the state: these, at peak time, included copper operations at Chino, Ray and Ely, plus gold operations at Barney’s Canyon and Alligator Ridge. He guided the company through the difficult period of the 1985 temporary closure and he remained in his Senior VP role until 1988.

Late in 1988 Burgess was hired by Magma Copper Co as President and Chief Executive Officer, this following the sudden death of the incumbent Magma officer, Brian Woolfe. It was at Magma that Burgess notched up his finest achievements. He was universally credited with turning around the Magma Copper Company which at the time was the third largest copper company in the USA. He achieved this by a combination of improvements, expansions and acquisitions, the last-mentioned referring to the 1994 purchase of the Tintaya mine, in Peru, and the Robinson project in Nevada. The improvements within Magma included the upgrading of plant technology and increases in worker productivity, leading overall to a drastic reduction in production costs. The key to these improvements being made possible was, however, the success of the negotiations by Burgess and his management team, with the strongly-unionised labour force: these negotiations resulted in the 1991 signing of a 15-year labour contract with a 7-year no strike clause.
This was followed in 1992 by the formation of a 140-person (half union and half management) cross-section of the entire staff of 5,000, who then thrashed out a vision for the future of the company, a vision that included worker participation in management, and a system that Burgess called “People Technology.” This organisation was called the “Voice of Magma” and functioned for the remainder of Magma’s life, with quarterly three-day meetings.

So impressive and successful were these achievements in labour relations that Burgess was summoned to The White House, in Washington DC, to explain them to President Clinton, the House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Labour Secretary Robert Reich!

In January 1996, Burgess negotiated the sale of the, by then, highly successful Magma Copper Co to Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) of Australia, at a price that greatly satisfied his shareholders. As part of the agreement, Burgess undertook to work for one year leading BHP’s Copper Division. He continued to live in California but made regular commutes to the BHP headquarters in Melbourne. He retired from BHP in 1997 and shortly thereafter relocated with his wife, Patricia, to live in England.

He continued with some private consultancy work for a number of companies, including for Lonmin and Minorco: and he worked with trust funds and did much fund-raising for charities in the UK and the USA. He was on the advisory board of the Paul Newman Foundation, an international philanthropy group (, whilst Patricia and he supported the University of Arizona through the Winter Scholarship Program and the Magheramorne Foundation that they had set up. Both received the Distinguished Service Award from the university’s Eller College of Management (   then search for Burgess Winter).

During his most successful career, Burgess received many other accolades and awards. In 1994 he was inducted into the American Mining Hall of Fame, whilst by 1995 he had won the two highest awards offered by the Society for Mining Engineers, namely the William Lawrence Saunders Gold Medal Award and also the Daniel C. Jackling Award. The former quoted “For his innovative leadership in bringing union and management together as a team that revitalised Magma Copper Company as an efficient and low cost copper producer.” Notably also, he was one of 10 finalists nominated by readers of Chief Executive journal for the 1995 Chief Executive of the Year award and received the Financial World CEO of the Year Award.  He had also, in his career, held directorships of the American Mining Congress, the American Business Conference, the National Mining Hall of Fame and the Tucson Electric Power Company.

Photo courtesy of Chief Executive Group, LLC.

The mining world has sadly lost an outstanding figure. Burgess was remarried, to Patricia, so we send our condolences to her, to Paul and Susan and families, and to Patricia’s daughters Cate and Nicky, plus their families too. The greater family of Patricia and Burgess includes fourteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, to whom he will be a great loss.

Jack Holmes (formerly Technical Director, Anglo American Corp.)
Tony Eltringham (formerly Vice President, BHP Base Metals)
Roger Brummitt (formerly Metallurgical Manager, Rhokana)
Stewart Smith (formerly Vice President Hudson Bay Mining)
Ken Severs (formerly Group Metallurgical Executive, Rio Tinto)