CENTRAL RAND GOLD LIMITED (CRG)

CRG engages in a gold mining and exploration project that aims to bring profitable and sustainable gold mining back to Johannesburg. Lola Trollip, CEO discusses what successful mining can contribute to the economy and the unique challenges faced by women in the mining industry.

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CRG is the holding company for a group of companies (‘Group’) and is listed on the official UK Listing Authority and on the main boards of both the London Stock Exchange (“LSE”) and the JSE Limited (“JSE”) in November 2007, after consolidating contiguous exploration permits covering approximately 138 square kilometres in the most prolific gold-producing area of the world—the Central Rand Goldfields on the southern outskirts of Johannesburg. The company subsequently moved their listing to the secondary boards, being Alt-X on the JSE and AIM on the London Stock Exchange.

“The company developed an underground mine, with access via an adit on the area known as Slot 8, being next to the N1 motorway, near the Maraisburg off-ramp. The underground operations were suspended in 2014, due to the rise in the water table of Central Johannesburg.

“This is despite the company donating two large pumps to the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority in order to dewater the central basin. The company then started to mine the orebody through open-pit mining methods. This allowed the company to access reefs close to the surface, down to depths of 50 metres,” explains Trollip.

She adds that the company also has a CIL gold plant on its premises, with a nameplate capacity of 22 000 tonnes.

When joining the company in November 2015, Trollip explains the company’s key mandate was to preserve the asset, to stabilise the operations and to ensure sustainability for all the stakeholders.

But the company faced challenges in the form of flooded underground operations, a lack of suitable methods to extract value out of the remaining orebody and the exit of senior management, which left the operation without direction and leadership.

“The “second-tier” management stepped up to the plate and have managed to move the operation in a positive direction,” says Trollip.

“This was hampered by major damage to the one mill in the plant, requiring it to be scrapped and a replacement mill to be sourced. In the interim, all operations were halted in order to reduce expenditure.

“A tolling agreement was entered into with a third party, which also proved to be unsuccessful and alternate tolling partners were engaged. In 2017, open-pit mining operations were reintroduced, albeit on a much smaller scale, and the processing of the material is alternated with tolling partners, in batches. In this manner, there are various sources of revenue and flexibility has been introduced into the plan, which we believe is the optimal recipe for CRG,” elaborates Trollip.

South Africa is rich in mineral resources and, according to Trollip, the successful mining of these resources has the potential to contribute positively to the economy.

She warns, however, that various factors need to be taken into consideration, and the fine line between adding value to the shareholders and adding value to all the stakeholders needs to be closely observed.

“The reason being that most of the mineral resources available in South Africa are dependent on the international market and are also influenced by exchange rate fluctuations.

“Many due diligence and profitability exercises are undertaken regularly, in order to assess the returns for both shareholders and stakeholders. The variability of these returns influences managerial decisions and employment, and have to be reacted to instantaneously before the value is destroyed,” she explains.

Fortunately, CRG finds itself in a positive space due to the fact that it mines gold, which has proven to be fairly stable at this time.

CRG subscribes to international best practice in sustainable development. The company operates within an urban space and, therefore, has a responsibility to both the community and the environment to operate responsibly.

“Sustainable development has various prongs, the most important one for CRG being the creation of sustainable employment and the aim to minimise job losses as well as optimise the wage bill and opportunities within the ambit of financial constraints. This remains a challenge for CRG whilst the central basin is flooded, and alternate means of revenue are being explored,” Trollip adds.

She explains that various other initiatives to assist with sustainable development are being undertaken, namely procurement practices, employment equity and a stringent environmental programme.

Despite the setbacks, Trollip believes the company’s biggest success lies in the fact that its operations are small enough to respond to the various industry challenges, and that it has the flexibility, in the current climate, to adapt its business strategy in order to create value.

“In the current mining climate, many of the larger operations have entered into the end of their life-cycle and are concentrating on rehabilitation of their dumps and slimes dams. This creates value for processing operations. The reason being that the gold price and exchange rate make it economically viable to process low-grade material,” she says.

CRG has taken advantage of this situation by creating an additional revenue stream through tolling third-party materials, which, previously, would not have been viable.

As a woman who holds a position of leadership in a male-dominated industry, Trollip believes that, while women’s involvement in the mining industry was once viewed with scepticism, it is far more accepted today. But unique challenges remain.

“With the focus on Women In Mining and the acceptance of women doing work, which was previously reserved for men, the norm has developed. I would say the biggest struggle has always been that you have to prove yourself before you are accepted. In my line of work, it is acceptable that I have the financial knowledge, but not normally any further understanding of the operation.

“I still find that people are surprised that I have a vast knowledge of mining, metallurgical and engineering technology. Only once I have proved that I understand the operation and its challenges fully, are some of my ideas accepted and implemented. The challenge is to ensure that the application of a strategy is fully explored and “sold” to the various members of my team, before implementation,” she says.

According to Trollip, innovation and change management are not easily implemented in the mining industry and she finds the difficulty lies in trying to change the attitudes of many of the personnel who still exhibit the “but we have always done it like this” attitude.

“I have found that the first successful implementation of a strategy, which differs from the previous way of working, is imperative to future changes,” she adds.

In terms of advice for young women who aspire to positions of leadership, Trollip strongly believes that, first and foremost, you must have a passion for your chosen role.

“There will be times when you are disheartened and believe that no-one is taking you seriously, but persistence and ‘putting one foot in front of the other’ is the way to get to the end goal,” she says.

Lola Trollip was born and raised in Welkom, which was the hub of gold mining in South Africa. She was involved in mining from an early age as her father was employed by Anglo America.

At the age of 16, she did an underground visit with overseas visitors and also attended a gold pour, which awakened her mining industry fascination.

“In the 1970s, women were not expected to enter into the technical or core mining industry and were rather expected to enter into the ‘soft’ skills and financial careers.

“I started working as a sales representative, selling various products to the mining industry in the goldfields. I started with promotional products and eventually owned my own company, selling pumping, lighting, underground rail switching gear, and also held various contracts for engineering labour as a Labour Broker,” she says.

In the interim, she studied part-time for her BCom degree. The market crashed in the early 1990s and she subsequently joined Freegold as a Costing Clerk. She continued to study part-time and completed her Honours and MBL degrees.

“Throughout my career, I have grown and held various positions in the mining industry, the focus being on Financial, Administration, Materials Management, Vendor Management and Contracts Management.

“Due to the volatility of the commodities markets, I have moved through gold, chrome, bauxite, nickel and back to gold mining. My journey has included moving from the Free State goldfields to Steelpoort, Westonaria, Sierra Leone, and now to Gauteng,” Trollip says.

When she joined CRG, it was in the capacity of a part-time Financial Manager.

“At that stage, the entire senior management team, as well as the CEO, had exited the company for various reasons.

The acting CEO was one of the non-executive directors. Due to the fact that I had worked as the General Manager in Sierra Leone, I was requested to apply for the position of CEO at CRG, and was appointed in March 2016,” she says proudly.

Trollip leads by example, saying that her “motto is PRITT, being the glue that keeps the team together. Passion, Respect, Integrity, Transparency and Teamwork. In the PRITT motto, I look for each member of the team to champion at least one of the principles and thereby ensuring that they complement each other.”

“I believe that you need to surround yourself with the best people that you can find and allow them the space to develop and, in that manner, to develop with them. As a leader, you need to be open to challenges, both personal and in the operation, and to embrace the challenges with open arms,” she concludes. 

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