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

Business First - - CONTENTS -

– 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.

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