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Nevada Gold Mines director: Joint venture is good for Nevada, Elko

Nevada Gold Mines director: Joint venture is good for Nevada, Elko

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The Nevada Gold Mines joint venture between Barrick and Newmont became official on July 1, less than four months after the joint venture was announced on March 11. Greg Walker, the executive managing director of Nevada Gold Mines, said a huge amount of work was done during those four months to bring everything together, and there is more work to be done.

“There seems to be a perception that you just snap your fingers and you can put these two entities together,” Walker said. “We spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of man hours with different teams putting it together.”

“You think of the magnitude of what we’re putting together; we’re putting together these two entities with vast asset bases.”

The mines themselves mostly just kept rolling along.

“The mines pretty much just operated as they normally would,” Walker said.

Two of the areas that took the most work were IT and HR – information technology and human resources.

The two companies ran on totally different IT platforms.

“We have IT teams trying to work out, how do we try to Band-Aid these two assets together so that they can talk to each other?”

Nevada Gold Mines has about 7,000 direct employees in northern Nevada. They had been Barrick or Newmont employees, and the two companies used totally different payroll systems.

“So we had to sit down and analyze both. We had to work out, what’s the middle ground, how do we not disadvantage either of these two teams and come up with a package in the middle that will not disadvantage them?”

“Then you have to navigate through the legal and regulatory maze as well, particularly around licensing and permitting.”

“And all of that had to be done with two different companies that historically haven’t really worked well together. We had to get them together and we had to work with each other very closely. ... It was a lot of work.

“We got to day one ... and day one wasn’t the finish ... now the other side of the work comes, and that is, how do we get the value out of it going forward?

“A huge amount of work was done behind the scenes no one will ever see. There were some heroes that did a mammoth job both technically, but also with their own personal energy and time that they put into it. They did a great job, both teams, both Newmont and Barrick were involved.”

Will it all be worth it?

Walker said that for many years people have seen the potential advantages of Barrick and Newmont working together on their Nevada operations.

“This joint venture idea has been kicked around in different shapes and forms as long as I can remember,” Walker said. “I’ve been with Barrick for 17 years, and it’s been kicked around three or four times in my time, different variations of it.”

Barrick President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Bristow finally helped to get the joint venture idea pushed through and make it a reality.

“He managed to get it done,” Walker said. “Which is good for both Newmont and Barrick. There are lots of concerns from different people, but I think it’s good for Nevada in general and good for Elko.

“We talk about synergies, and sometimes that’s a word that gets used wrongly, but we really did have opportunities here where the mines would work up to each other’s fences, and then they’d stop. You can’t actually pursue the gold across an imaginary line that’s drawn there. When that barrier is taken away, we can now chase that ore, and that will extend the life of these mines, the life of these assets. That means Elko and the counties around here will have revenues and benefits from the mining for many more years than they would have under the previous structure. I think it’s a good thing for Nevada and Elko and Lander and Eureka and the other counties that benefit as well.”

Staff cuts

A difficult part of making the transition was eliminating positions as the two companies’ teams were combined and some of the people with duplicate roles were transferred to other positions or were let go. The week of May 20, employees were notified of the job cuts. There were 130 positions eliminated. About 60 of those people went to other positions and about 70 were laid off.

Talking about the importance of open and honest discussions, Walker said, “We had the same discussion with our workforce when we met and said we were going to be looking at the G&A (general and administrative expenses) here. I had to stand in front of all those people knowing that people in this room were not going to be there in a few weeks’ time. It’s not an easy discussion to have, but at least everybody knows where we are and what we’re doing.”

“We took two companies with two management teams and we put them together,” Walker said. “I’ve got 14 direct reports, so there are 15 in our management team. I think there were 17 in the Newmont management team, so we put them together and there were 17 roles that disappeared. And there’s only one receptionist.

“It was role duplication. We looked at all the people we had, and we went through a detailed process with HR. … We did an assessment of all the people in those positions at both Barrick and Newmont, and then we made a selection. It’s always difficult, because those people never did anything wrong, it was a matter of circumstance that we were effectively putting these two companies together. The roles weren’t there.

“Newmont took a lot of those people, they went to Newmont roles, and that was good, that meant that we didn’t have to let a lot of people go, but we did get down to the pointy end, which was 70 roles of people that had to lose their roles. It’s difficult, but those decisions had to be made.”

Jobs saved

As Bristow has talked about the plans for the joint venture, he said the administration would become leaner and duplicate roles would be eliminated, but that the number of people working at the mines would probably increase over time. Walker said many mining jobs have already been saved because of the joint venture.

In October 2018 there was a slide at Newmont’s Gold Quarry open pit mine, and some employees lost their jobs at that time. Walker said that as a result of the slide, a Newmont processing plant was scheduled to be shut down this month, and he has heard that around 70 to 80 people may have lost their jobs. But with the joint venture, stockpiled Barrick ore that was scheduled to be processed around 2035 is now being trucked to the Newmont processing plant so that it will be kept open.

“So already, as we speak, we’ve lost 70 jobs, but we’ve just saved 70 other jobs for people that would have lost their jobs,” Walker said.

He said this is just one of the many joint venture synergies that will result in better logistics, cost savings, extended mine life, saved jobs and new jobs at the mines.

Walker said that as a reverse example of what is going on at Gold Quarry, Newmont stockpiles around the Pete Bajo mine which were scheduled to be processed in about 10 years are now going to be trucked to a Barrick processing plant.

“We now have opportunities to move ore around and process it in different ways,” Walker said.

He said there are also opportunities to move equipment around between Barrick and Newmont mines so that all the equipment can be put to work where it will be most effective.

Turquoise Ridge and Twin Creeks

The combination of the Turquoise Ridge and Twin Creeks mines has already been completed, Walker said. Twin Creeks was a Newmont asset, and Turquoise Ridge was 75 percent Barrick and 25 percent Newmont, so the two mines had already been working together closely.

“We were paying a treatment cost at Twin Creeks, and now that treatment cost effectively goes away,” Walker said. “It’s internal, which allows us to change the cut-off grade in Turquoise Ridge, mine lower grade profitably, and ship that across to Twin Creeks.”

“When you’re mining from Turquoise Ridge and sending it across to Twin Creeks, just the process of validating the grade and how much gold is in there, it’s a very complex and very time intensive and cost intensive process. That’s all eliminated now. Now whether it’s 100% accurate or 90% accurate doesn’t really matter because it’s all joint venture money and it just goes around and around. So we’ve managed to save money on sampling, drilling, all of the monitoring we had to put in place for that ore treatment when it moved across from one mine to the next.

“So there are a lot of advantages to putting those two mines together.”

Goldstrike and Carlin

Walker said the joint venture is combining the Barrick Goldstrike mine and the Newmont Carlin mine, but is then splitting them to have a general manager for the surface operations and a general manager for the underground operations. Up until now, Newmont ran Carlin as a surface operation and an underground operation and Barrick ran Goldstrike as one entity.

“When we put them together we sat with the Newmont leadership and got to understand why they split Carlin the way they did, and we’ve chosen to split the same way,” Walker said. He said there are now two very good general managers running the combined Carlin-Goldstrike asset.

“They are two big jobs,” Walker said. “There are seven underground operations for the underground manager, and the surface guy has got four processing plants plus heap leach, so he’s got five processing facilities — six if you count Emigrant — and he’s also got four open pits.”

The two mines were combined “because they’re so close and they’re so interrelated,” Walker said. “We have ore bodies that butt up to the boundaries that we can mine across now. We can reroute ore to either of the processing plants. There are a lot of benefits we can get. We can treat water at one water treatment facility before it’s discharged. So there are a lot of reasons why it should be one complex.”

Lean corporate structure

On March 11 when Bristow announced the joint venture, he said “The original Barrick back in the ‘80s is what I modeled my company on, and that is very entrepreneurial, agile and modern in its thinking, with a very small head office.”

Walker said that although it is difficult to make the transition to a smaller head office, there are a lot of advantages to the type of lean, agile business structure Bristow likes.

“This will make a leaner structure than we had previously,” Walker said. “And it will make for much better decision making. Previously both companies were managed from a long way away. We’re going to manage the joint venture from Elko, so we have a lot more autonomy and lot more decision making than we’ve had in the past, which is a good thing. It will be quicker decisions, and also decisions are more locally based.

“I’ve talked to a number of people about things that we do and whether they’re good or bad, for the community, for contractors, for the local government. At least we make informed decisions. We can actually sit down with people and say, this is what we’re going to do, how does it impact you, and we can understand the impacts. It might not change the decision, but it might. I think we’re much better placed. We don’t have someone in Denver or someone in Toronto making decisions for Elko, which is important.”

Walker said Barrick and now Nevada Gold Mines have a structure that is kind of like the matrix organizational structure which was talked about back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

“We cross boundaries and we have very flat structures and very direct reporting. Mike, the CFO next door, can ring the CEO of Barrick and have a discussion about different issues. The structure exists, but the interrelationships and the discussions are much different. It’s not very hierarchical. We all have titles, but we just go and do whatever we need to do.

“Mark says everyone has a right to interfere in everyone else’s business. Which is almost organized chaos. It can be chaotic. But the good thing is, you get decisions made very quickly. If I have a concern I ring him and within a day we can have the decision sorted out. It’s much, much quicker than the old structure.”

Walker said that when he worked for Barrick in the old days, “I reported to the regional vice president, who reported to the regional president, who reported to the operations director, who reported to the COO, who reported to the CEO, who reported to the board. Now as general manager I report directly to the COO. So we cut out about four different layers in there. This is much better.”

In the past, Walker said, when a person had an issue, “by the time it got to the top it was either grossly over-exaggerated if that suited the people in between, or it was grossly understated, depending on what they wanted. The truth never seemed to get to the CEO. The good thing now is, you know the CEO is going to be here in a couple of weeks, so you better make sure he knows what’s going on. It’s a good structure.”

Walker said Bristow would be back soon to spend a week in Elko.

“He’ll go to every mine site while he’s here,” Walker said. “That will be the fifth time in six months he’s been to Nevada … That’s the sort of visibility and the sort of direct accountability that we’ll have.”

Mine vendors

Talking about the local mining vendors, Walker said, “Our supply teams have been meeting with vendors, getting them to understand what it means going forward. There has been good feedback from those interactions with vendors.

“There was a lot of uncertainty at the start. People were thinking, you go big and therefore you only go international … but that’s not how Barrick does it and it’s not how Newmont does it.

“The DNA of the JV comes from those two companies. We’re going to continue to do business the way we do. And getting good, strong, local service providers is the best way to run a business.

“We do the same thing globally in all of our organizations. It’s about building the right capacity, but also making sure that they can supply the service you need at the quality you need and at a competitive price. That’s what both companies are built on and that’s what the joint venture will be built on as well.”

Communication and county revenue

In talking about the need for clear, open and detailed discussions, Walker talked about meeting with the Elko County commissioners. The commissioners were concerned that the joint venture might switch from centralized warehousing in Elko County to smaller warehouses closer to the mine sites in other counties. The joint venture mine sites are not in Elko County, but with the mine companies’ warehouses in Elko County, the county receives sales tax revenue.

Walker said he asked the commissioners to come back to him with specific details.

“I said, ‘come back and give me a presentation of what the benefits are, and what would the losses would be, if we made those decisions.’

“I don’t intend to make that decision; we’re not decentralizing the warehouses, we’re keeping them here. But I was interested to know what benefit we’re getting from it, or what the community was getting from that facility. And whether we could actually expand it and get greater benefit from it.

“It’s important to have those discussion about what does it mean to you, what does it mean to me, and then we can decide whether we go left or right. Being able sit down and have that frank, open discussion is important to me. I go and talk to the workforce and they ask me all sorts of questions and I encourage them to ask the questions.”

He said that this sort of interaction exemplifies what the joint venture will be.

“It will be about being part of the community, part of the workforce, being visible.”

Social investment

Since the changes at Barrick and Newmont began around the start of this year, there has been a lot of concern about the future of charitable giving from the big mining companies. There will be more information in the Elko Daily Free Press in the future as the details of the joint venture’s charitable giving program are worked out, but Walker said that social investment will remain a priority.

“I spent a lot of time going to the sites talking to the employees, just talking about issues,” Walker said.

He said one issue that always came up was the joint venture’s social support and charitable giving. Some people commented that up until now both Barrick and Newmont have been giving money to community organizations, and now that the joint venture is one company, the amount of money going to the community might be cut in half.

“We don’t see that support as being a way of cutting costs,” Walker said. “That’s not the intent and that’s not what we’re looking at. What the team will do is look at how can we add value and get really good, strong, sustainable projects that support the community.”

Walker said education and health care are two of the areas the joint venture will be looking at as they consider ways to give to the community.

“We’ve already been meeting with the board from the hospital, and talking to them about improving their services,” Walker said. He encouraged the board to go back and look at their model to improve upon community concerns.

“We’re not about saving money by cutting out the work that we’ve done as Newmont and Barrick. We may reshape it a little bit.

“I also come from a background of making sure that whatever we do is sustainable. I’ve been involved with projects in the past where we spent a lot of money and a lot of effort, and then within 12 months the project falls over because the community or the government don’t have the capacity to support it. Here we’ll be focusing on adding value, but also making sure that what we do lives past us, lives past me as an individual, the joint venture and mining in general. ‘How do we make it stick,’ is what we’re looking at.

“It’s certainly not a process of reducing our costs, or saving money or putting more money in the company’s pocket by cutting the support that we give the community.”

The Barrick building

Newmont and Barrick both had nice office buildings just down the street from each other in Elko. The joint venture has now set up its offices in the Newmont building and the Barrick building is currently empty. Walker explained that a basic reason for this decision is that Newmont owned its office building, which is now owned by the joint venture, while the Barrick office building was leased.

Another option would have been to sell the Newmont building, “but economically that wasn’t a good option,” Walker said.

Walker said the joint venture is looking to sublease the former Barrick building “and/or find an alternative use for it. So we’re talking to a few different service providers about some community-based options.”

“And it’s still another three months before we actually move all the IT systems from there to here, so we need it for another three months,” Walker said of the Barrick building.

Barrick Gold Exploration also had a leased administration building across the interstate from the Barrick and Newmont buildings.

“So they’ve put in notice to relinquish that lease and they’ll move into this building as well,” Walker said.

Some personal history

Walker grew up in Kalgoorlie, Australia. The city is dominated by the Fimiston open pit mine, also known as “Super Pit,” which is right in the middle of town. For more than 10 years the mine has been a joint venture between Barrick and Newmont.

“That’s been a long relationship, and it’s been profitable for both companies,” Walker said.

“The first house I ever owned is currently in the middle of the Newmont/Barrick super pit.” Walker said.

The house is not actually in the pit, but was relocated as the pit expanded.

“My father was an underground miner. It was a little bit like Elko. Everyone either worked for the mines directly or indirectly supported the mines.”

After high school Walker went to work at the nickel smelter in Kalgoorlie. After about eight years he moved into gold mining and worked for various medium-sized companies.

In the late ‘90s, Walker’s general manager told him he should go back to school to further his career, so Walker took classes at the Western Australian School of Mines and earned a degree in metallurgy.

“I went overseas to New Guinea back in 2000, and then I came back to Western Australia in 2002 and I started working for Barrick. I was the surface operations manager for one of their smaller mines. I did that for three or four years. I looked after open pit and processing.

“They asked me if I would go over and run some of their mines in Africa, so I went there and I was the general manager of a high-grade open pit mine over there. So I did that for about 18 months and then I moved to another mine in Tanzania in Africa, a big underground mine, about 5,000 people. It was not big from a production standpoint, but big from scope and size. With inefficiencies in places like Africa, you end up with a lot more people. It was only a 300,000-ounce producer, so it was relatively small. I did that for six and a half years. Then I went back and ran operations in Papua New Guinea. That was a big underground and open pit mine, similar in complexity and processing as here at Goldstrike and Twin Creeks.

“There were some interesting challenges there. It was very challenging. And those are things that I like doing. I like working in environments where it’s not just mining; it’s community, people, government, the politics. You can make a difference. You make a difference in the mining, because you can be a better miner, but you can also make a difference in people’s lives. Here you make small differences … but in those environments there is no government support and you end up being a pseudo government, and therefore you spend a lot time and effort with communities. Both Africa and New Guinea were like that.

“I left New Guinea in 2016, and went to Dominican Republic. I was there for 15 months. … That’s a big, complicated mine. When I was there it was the second biggest producing gold mine in the world. That was a good operation; that was really interesting.

“Then they asked me to go to Toronto to take on a corporate role. I was there for 12 months.”

Then Walker was set to go to Las Vegas to run Barrick’s North American operations. But when the joint venture became a reality Walker said to Bristow, “I’ll go to Elko and run it; it’s too big an opportunity and too big a challenge to try to run it remotely.”

“I had to ring my wife and say we’re not going to Vegas anymore, we’re going to Elko,” Walker said.

Walker’s wife is a director of value realization for Barrick.

Walker said he moved to Elko in March, and their children finished the school year in Canada June 14 and everyone caught the plane that night and has been here since.

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