This interview with George Burns, President & CEO of Eldorado Gold, originally appeared in the EY Canadian Mining Eye Q2 2018 www.ey.com/ca/miningeye
You have been President and CEO of Eldorado for just over a year now. What changes have you sought to make to the organization (say from a cultural and operating model perspective) and why?
The mining industry is capital intensive and cyclical, so we have become more explicit in our decision making on capital and have developed an understanding within our organization of what the key drivers are that determine capital allocation. We have strengthened our strategic business planning process since I joined, with the idea that our country vice presidents and mine general managers are business owners competing for capital.
Annual strategic business planning sessions are held where general managers present their investments and decisions are made. This happens in the latter part of the year and feeds into the budgeting process. This is done in an open and transparent way, so that everyone has a full understanding of expectations.
We are focused on stage-gating our projects from exploration and early decisions to feasibility studies. We have frameworks in place for all capital investments, including an internal investment committee that actively goes through stages and makes appropriate decisions.
Additionally, on big capital projects, there are third-party reviews to identify enhancements and risks. However, there is a balance between being entrepreneurial and agile, and having controls and standards by which we make key decisions. I’ve seen bureaucratic standards get in the way. We are trying to strike the right balance here at Eldorado.
From a culture standpoint, my leadership approach is collaborative. I encourage open information sharing across the organization so teams can work better together. I also encourage being open to change, particularly as we look at implementing innovative technologies and new approaches. Fostering a culture of teamwork, ownership and accountability is critical for us to continue creating value for all our stakeholders.
What are the key success factors to running a global mining company with assets located across three continents?
I start with people. Having skilled, in-country teams who understand the cultural sensitivities of doing business in their own countries and have the ability to manage the strategic opportunities and risks while running the day-to-day is essential. Being in multiple geographies, we can share successes from one jurisdiction to another. That has been an important part of the company’s history.
If you look at our Turkish investments, there wasn’t a big foreign presence in Turkey in the gold mining industry when we started out. Eldorado successfully explored, discovered and built two mines – and have operated them for more than a decade. Having good relationships with internal and external stakeholders is also critical. Nothing beats connecting with people face-to-face to develop the strong partnerships needed to build a successful business.
Being competitive when it comes to productivity, efficiency and deployment of technology is also a key advantage for us. Our Efemçukuru underground mine in Turkey is deploying some of the more advanced technologies available and is leveraging Turkish companies to do so. We have ventilation on-demand and tracking of personnel and equipment underground. These technologies are helping us provide even safer workplaces for our people.
Lastly, good assets form the basis of Eldorado’s business. Great orebodies make running great mines a lot easier. The geographic diversity of our portfolio – our projects and mines are in Europe, South America and North America – helps us when it comes to geopolitical risks.
What excites you the most in terms of the opportunities for Eldorado across your portfolio of assets?
We are positioned for significant growth moving forward. We are on-track to almost double our current annual production in the next three years, to 600,000 ounces by 2021. This comes from our core operating assets, Efemçukuru and Olympias, and from getting our core development projects, and the Kışladağ mill, built and into production.
In the first quarter of 2018, we put out three new technical studies on our key growth opportunities – Lamaque, the Kışladağ mill and Skouries. Lamaque is a very advanced brownfield project in Quebec and offers us near-term production with huge resource potential. The land package has produced over nine-million ounces of gold over a number of decades, and yet a Canadian junior discovered a new significant resource that we have turned into approximately 900,000 ounces of gold reserves.
By refurbishing the existing mill and tailings facilities at site and accelerating underground development, we are on-track to begin production in early 2019. It’s not often that you find a mature asset in a North American jurisdiction and can bring a new opportunity from exploration into production in just a couple of short years.
The Kışladağ mill is a low-risk project with potential upside under higher metal prices. A board decision on construction is expected in October 2018. Skouries is a world-class asset which we believe we’ve made even better through the use of best available environmental and operational standards. It’s approximately 50% built but is currently being put on care and maintenance pending receipt of permits needed to complete construction and begin operations.
What excites me about our overall portfolio is that we are being leaders in the way we are deploying our projects from an environmental perspective. At Efemçukuru, we have deployed filtered tailings disposal. We put tailings and waste rock on a liner and reclaim each year as we go. At Olympias, filtered tailings are being deployed in combination with paste backfill.
We have designed our bigger investments, Kışladağ and Skouries, with the use of dry-stack tailings disposal. At Skouries using dry-stack will allow us to reduce the mine’s footprint dramatically – by some 40%. Pulling water out of the tailings offers a much quicker environmental reclamation solution. Globally, there are not many mines deploying dry-stack at our throughput levels nor backfilling open pits like we have designed for Skouries.
No matter the jurisdiction, the public perception about the impact of mining is often polarized. How can the sector ensure greater communication or transparency with the public?
The industry as a whole has greatly improved its environmental performance over the last three decades and has embraced technology to find ways to continue to responsibly produce the metals we need for the world we live in. From my perspective, it’s important to keep the public informed about what we do, why we need the metals we need and how we can produce them in the most sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
To that end, it’s really an exercise in education. Educating people of all ages is key. At our operations in Turkey, Greece and Quebec, we do mine tours so locals can stop by, see what we’re up to and ask questions to get a sense of what mining is all about.
Another important step is getting out in the media and presenting the reality of the industry and what is being done proactively to protect the environment. I don’t think we are doing enough here.
It’s a challenge when each company is focused on different jurisdictions and what it takes to get a mine up and running. That said, the industry has made a lot of progress, and is using a much more visual approach to show openly how they are managing their impacts. At Eldorado we are focused on supporting that path of finding better ways to do to things.
A number of your mining peers are investing in innovation, digital and automation programs. Do you have anything similar underway at Eldorado, and what is your view of the role of technology in improving the overall performance of the sector?
Technology has played an important role over the four decades I’ve been in the industry. I look at my early days and there have been tremendous improvements made particularly when it comes to environmental protection and safety. At Eldorado, we are deploying leading technologies that have been developed in the last decade or so. We track our people underground and have ventilation speed-up and slow-down depending on equipment and people in headings.
We are finding new ways to be innovative as we develop and engineer our mines. At our Lamaque operation, where we are refurbishing the historical plant, one of our focal points is how we can be more energy efficient as we rebuild this older mill. At Skouries, our team has used virtual reality software to show contractors where valves, electrical wiring and other items were to be installed in the processing plant. We’ve seen productivity gains and cost savings as it has meant work has been done right, from the beginning.
Better technology is coming, including sorting ore from waste to reduce processing costs, moving material in more innovative ways and backfilling mines. The Skouries project is a perfect example where we have found a way to backfill our pit using dry stack tailings and still have an economic project to be able to provide metals that the world needs. It’s about embracing the new technologies that are out there and trying to find ways to fundamentally change the way we operate.