Not one to toot his own horn, Jim Gowans says what sets him apart from others in the mining business is simple – he has a lot of experience. If you believe his logic, lasting 40 years in the industry is all you have to do to reach the top of the biggest gold mining company in the world. But Gowans’ success is proof that it is what you do with your time that counts: he has managed to build six major mines over his career so far. Now co-president of Barrick Gold, he has moved back to Canada after years in Botswana managing Debswana, the world’s largest diamond producer, and is still eagerly looking ahead at the next big project.
CIM: Is there a Barrick operation you are particularly excited about?
Gowans: There are a couple of them, and for different reasons. Pueblo Viejo, in the Dominican Republic, is a new operation: I was involved in Placer Dome when we were actually looking to do the acquisition of that mine. It’s the only operation that produces over a million ounces a year. It’s got a long life and there is lots of potential there. It’s very complex metallurgy and I’m a metallurgist, so the flow sheet is very interesting to me.
Cortez was one of the ones I built before I left Placer Dome. It’s fun to see how it evolved from being part of the operation pipeline that I was involved in, knowing that the exploration we were doing in the Cortez hills now forms the core of the ore body and that there are two more ore bodies close by that we are continuing to develop. So, it’s exciting.
We have a couple of properties that are in the advanced stage of exploration, too, that I would love to have the opportunity to get into the project side and possibly build.
CIM: Where do you think your personality fits in with the Barrick team?
Gowans: I’m the operations, exploration and projects side and the other co-president, Kelvin Dushnisky, is coming from the licence-to-operate side: government relations, environment, permitting and those aspects. He and I are a good fit because our skills are very complementary and we get along well. I wouldn’t say we necessarily agree on everything, though we’re very committed to the success of the company. So we may have lots of discussions but we’ll always focus on getting an outcome that works for the company. It’s all part of pushing each other to be better, and the same goes for the rest of the folks on the team.
CIM: Who would you consider a mentor?
Gowans: Hank Giegerich from Cominco was a great mentor. I built Red Dog and Polaris with him. Sandy Laird, with Placer Dome, was fabulous in mentoring and developing young people. They’ve both been active in CIM for years. You have to have those contacts you can phone up and ask “What do you think?” You have to have people who are straight with you and give you good advice.
CIM: Is there anything you’d like to import into Barrick from your past experiences?
Gowans: With three other companies, I built two mines each. I learned the discipline and rigour of developing mines at other companies, and I think that’s something I can bring to Barrick. There are elements of it already, but it’s going to be one of the defining successes for our future.
CIM: Your personal pay has been in the press lately. How do you deal with that kind of publicity?
Gowans: I take it with a grain of salt because I know the facts. What was reported in the press wasn’t technically correct because the total compensation they had there was based on shares and the like. So it’s future-based value. What I get paid is a small fraction of that. If I got paid what it said in the press, I’d be really happy!
CIM: How do you stay sharp when life gets hectic?
Gowans: I actually enjoy it. It always drives some of the younger people I’m with crazy because when we’re going up in the Andes they get headaches from the altitude and I’m the only guy on the team that gets a full night’s sleep. I don’t lose my appetite and I actually don’t get jet lag either! When I arrive at a location to see a mine, whether it’s in Zambia at the Lumwana mine or in Saudi Arabia or up in the Andes in Chile and Argentina, I get a thrill out of seeing an operation and talking with my people about what we have to do to make this a better mine. It gets the adrenaline going.
Teacher at the top