Gold-laced business lessons
In 2013 Barrick Cowal Goldmine produced 297,000 ounces of gold at all-in sustaining costs of $746 per ounce. Proven and probable mineral reserves as at December 31, 2013, were 1.8 million ounces of gold. The man running this successful operation is Alan F
– In 2013 Barrick Cowal Goldmine produced 297,000 ounces of gold at all-in sustaining costs of $746 per ounce. Proven and probable mineral reserves as at December 31, 2013, were 1.8 million ounces of gold. The man running this successful operation is Alan Fearon. He speaks with Bob Forshaw about the community-minded approach Cowal takes and what makes Cowal and parent company Barrick Gold so successful.
The Barrick Cowal mine is located in Central New South Wales, Australia, approximately 32 kilometers north of West Wyalong and approximately 350 kilometers west of Sydney. Cowal is an open pit operation, mined by a fleet of dump trucks, excavators and ancillary equipment.
This is a big operation and it takes a team of committed professionals to make it a success. The one thing that stands out about Cowal’s operation is that it is a committed effort by a community workforce. To be clear, this is not a fly-in, fly-out company, but an organisation that employs community members.
“The business hires locals,” Cowal general manager Alan Fearon says. “One of the conditions of employment is you must live in the area. From our perspective this helps us retain good, experienced people who view this site as part of their life. We have 317 employees and everyone lives in the community; people want to work here, be part of the gold mine and not just accept a pay cheque.”
Sometimes building a community is easier said than done, however a strong community is one that is well lead and Alan has done his best at creating an inclusive culture in which all and sundry feel involved.
For Alan that inclusiveness is created by accountability, which begins with his own.
“Success is determined by how good the team under me is. I try to develop people to have a good skill base. I am accountable for that and in turn they become accountable for their responsibilities. I believe that we reach our goals together and that’s what we have to deliver on.”
There are times when leadership and community are tested. In 2013 the gold price dropped significantly and disaster in a lesser organisation may have been imminent. However the damage was minimised through exceptional change management practice, where everyone from leadership down played their part to keep the company in good shape and continue to thrive.
Coming through this period and navigating through the low gold price is one of Cowal’s biggest achievements.
“We had a big review last year and while cost pressures were tight, we were able to reduce production costs despite increased power and labour costs. We had to let five people go, not 15 and we were able to instigate solutions before the price crash.”
Momentum Energy’s strong relationship with Barrick is based on providing value for money in a key cost input to their business. In our continued relationship with Barrick Gold, Momentum Energy is excited to collaborate on new energy efficiency and procurement methods to ensure their business continues its cost efficiency journey.
The community, the council and Cowal’s suppliers were integral to the organisation’s strength through this period. In fact, these stakeholders play very positive roles in Cowal’s ability to operate successfully. Alan not only oversees the internal community, but an external one as well.
“We have to work with local businesses and council to make sure that we operate a sustainable and ethical business within Barrick’s codes and practices. This is an organisation that we hope puts money back into the community and creates more business for everyone involved. I believe the companies in this region have grown with us and grown within the community.”
As part of their community mindedness, Cowal heavily supports development programs. One program revolves around youth mental health.
“There is stress and strain in this industry,” Alan says. “Mental health programs are an important part of the community, especially for those who are affected by severe drought which can ravage this region. By providing funding to government programs and helping to improve resources in this area, we can assist the local community in terms of stress. Many of these people are employed or affected by Cowal in some way.”
The partnership between Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) and Barrick Cowal Gold Mine has resulted in the employment of a Youth Mental Health Promotion worker for the West Wyalong, Temora, Coolamon and Junee districts.
Cowal remain sensitive to the needs of the community and their concerns for the environment. As such when it tendered to extend the operation from 2019 to 2024, there was very little objection.
“We had to go into a public consultation with the Department of Infrastructure. We put in our submission and 73 out of 80 were in support of it. That’s a good number and it has been a fairly easy process. We are still waiting on final approval, but remain hopeful of a successful determination. It just shows that the community has confidence in what we are doing and the way we go about achieving our aims.”
Cowal’s parent company Barrick Gold Corporation is the biggest gold producer in the world. It has reached this position because of its recognition of local cultures and customs. As evidenced above, Australia is no different.
Barrick recognises there are different cultures: from Africa to Australia. This ensures they have the flexibility to run the business no matter what the region. There are policies and processes, but they are adaptable. We have several projects and work really had to make ourselves and brand an employer of choice, with a good culture and safety ethic.”
Alan keeps abreast of what is going on in other regions as this informs some of the decisions made in Australia, but he says no matter what his position, he enjoys learning. He has studied all over the world: the cultures of South Africa, Zimbabwe, the UK and Australia. What he has learnt is that you don’t go into a region blindsided.
“You go in with open eyes and ears, accepting of people’s processes and respectful of their culture.”
Another important lesson that Alan has learnt about leadership is to be open and honest about failures. He encourages that from employees as well, so that everyone involved can work through the failure and figure out why it happened. It comes back to a culture of community and everyone being accountable for what they do.
Alan has several responsibilities: to Barrick as the parent company, the employees of Barrick Cowal Gold Mine and to the community at large. It is no easy task, but through a policy of inclusion he is ensuring that everyone is achieving their goals and that the company is in a good position to expand the life of the mine and for future exploration.