Greg Walker is the Executive General Manager of the Pueblo Viejo mine, a role he has held since September 2016. He has more than 37 years of experience in mining, including 14 at Barrick. Before joining Pueblo Viejo, Greg worked in progressively senior roles at the Porgera Joint Venture in Papua New Guinea, including Executive Managing Director. He is a former General Manager of the Bulyanhulu and Tulawaka mines in Tanzania, both properties of Acacia Mining, in which Barrick holds a 64 percent stake. He has a proven track record of delivering best-in-class business improvement, training and mentoring local workforces, and of working exceptionally well with government and community partners.
BEYOND BORDERS: YOU’VE BEEN AT PUEBLO VIEJO FOR EIGHT MONTHS NOW, WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT STAND OUT FOR YOU ABOUT THE OPERATION?
Greg Walker: Pueblo Viejo is a world-class operation, has a world-class ore body and is one of the top three gold-producing mines in the world. It’s a great resource with untapped potential.
I’m impressed with the mine’s process plant—the way it’s set up, the way it’s operated, and the general pride the people have in that area. I’m equally impressed with the way we manage water in the mine’s open pit, as this is an operation where it rains nearly every day. The mine also has an excellent water treatment plant.
We have a great bunch of people at Pueblo Viejo who are really interested in mining, development, advancing and learning in their careers—all the things you want in a workforce. It’s a great privilege to be here.
BB: YOU’VE ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED A LOT IN THE SHORT TIME YOU’VE BEEN HERE. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ACHIEVEMENTS YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF?
GW: I’m proud that we’ve significantly increased throughput, thanks to our operators’ focus and a lot of individual projects coming together. That includes maintenance, the autoclave circuit and better managing our water supply.
Throughput is about getting more material through the process plant. In most places, a process plant is typically about crushing or grinding. Ours is complex and interrelated. Improving throughput in crushing doesn’t automatically improve throughput in the processing plant. You need to figure out which levers to pull to increase productivity—and we did.
Better throughput and focus enabled us to lift our gold recovery to about 91 percent from 87 percent. That doesn’t sound like much but it’s significant. We also significantly improved our silver recovery by 30 percent.
BB: WHAT AREAS DO YOU PLAN TO FOCUS ON?
GW: Our focus is on maximizing the value from the resources we have. The mine site recently ran a strategic planning workshop, from which we developed three key areas of focus:
If we can unlock those three areas, we will significantly change the outlook of Pueblo Viejo.
We’re also looking at how to bring in the ounces of gold that are in mineral inventory but not part of the current life of mine. We think there is a lot of potential there.
BB: HOW WILL BARRICK’S DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION APPLY TO PUEBLO VIEJO?
GW: I see digitization as including automation and technology, and we have used both to improve throughput and manage the mill better. Process control helped improve the grinding circuit and we also changed our focus in the mill.
We have a strong focus this year on data management—improving our understanding of data and where it comes from, where it goes, what we use it for and how we analyze it. This time next year we’ll be better managing that data to add value to Pueblo Viejo.
BB: YOU WANTED TO COME TO PUEBLO VIEJO OVER OTHER BARRICK LOCATIONS. WHY?
GW: I find it interesting working in different cultures, adding value to a country by training and developing its workforce. It’s bigger than simply being a miner; crushing, grinding and producing gold. You interact at a social or political level more than you would in Nevada or Australia. Also, I hadn’t been in the Dominican Republic before, so it was a new culture and environment I wanted to experience.
BB: WHY IS EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT SO IMPORTANT?
GW: I see three main reasons: It makes good business sense to have well-trained, motivated people. Skilled people make good decisions, have fewer accidents and have fewer issues. As a company, we have a moral obligation to add value for the benefit we get from the resources we mine. Some countries have a shortage of skilled labor, so anything we can do to improve those skills through developing our workforce will help the country grow.
BB: YOU AND MEJICO ANGELES, PRESIDENT OF BARRICK PUEBLO VIEJO AND COUNTRY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARE JOINTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR LICENSE-TO-OPERATE-RELATED MATTERS. HOW IS THIS PARTNERSHIP STRUCTURE HELPING YOU TO BETTER ADDRESS THIS CRITICAL AREA, AND WHY IS SUSTAINABILITY MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER TO OUR INDUSTRY?
GW: License to operate and production are intrinsically linked, so having an Executive Director and General Manager address these issues together works very well. Of course, you need to have a good working relationship and trust. I know that Mejico is doing his job, allowing me to stay focused on mine yet totally aware of what’s happening on the license-to-operate front because Mejico does an excellent job of keeping me informed. We have joint meetings on a regular basis, as in every week. And when Mejico asks for support, I respond immediately and he does the same. Recently, we had a weekend of heavy rains at Pueblo Viejo and Mejico and his team—who usually work Monday to Friday—were all there over the weekend engaging with government and ensuring everyone was informed about what was going on.
License to operate is no longer a support function. It’s as important as environment and safety. It’s as important to me as supply chain. In today’s world, communities have more say in what governments do and social media makes the focus on sustainability issues almost laser-like; an issue can go global within seconds. So license to operate is no longer a support function, and any general manager that thinks that is going to get himself into difficulty in the long term.
BB: YOU’VE WORKED AS A MINE GENERAL MANAGER IN SOME CHALLENGING LOCATIONS, LIKE PAPUA NEW GUINEA AND TANZANIA. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?
GW: My experiences have made me more humble than I was as a younger man. They’ve helped me be calmer, more tolerant and more understanding. They’ve also shown me what abject poverty is, and what a lack of opportunity does to people. Seeing what somebody needs to do to survive on a day-to-day basis changes your perspective of the world.
BB: TELL US SOMETHING WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT GREG WALKER?
GW: I’m going to learn to merengue before this year’s Christmas party.