Bronwyn Barnes: Path starts at Forrest

Published: 30/04/2013


By Emily Roberts,

BRONWYN Barnes did not follow a typical path into the mining boardroom. Her start in the industry came only nine years ago when she joined Anaconda Nickel under Andrew Forrest – a wonderful introduction to the mining industry.

Managing director of Western Australian-based Graynic Metals since July last year, Barnes was perhaps influenced in her belief that miners often have an unshakeable optimism about the value of technology and innovation by her early experience with Forrest, who didn’t finish what he started with Anacond’s Murrin Murrin laterite nickel project but who decided not to revert to convention when entering the iron ore business.

“I started my career in research and development in engineering technology so I haven’t always worked in the mining/resources sector,” Barnes told HighGrade. “When I left that role it was to join Anaconda Nickel. Over the years I have worked for a number of the larger mining houses and some smaller ones as well. I love working in mining: the people have a fantastic attitude towards getting things done and a very different mindset around embracing new technology and looking for new ways to do things. It really is an attitude around constant improvement.”

Apart from her engineering technology background, Barnes entered the mining world with an arts degree from the University of WA and graduate diploma of business from Edith Cowan University, also in WA.

“My time working with Andrew Forrest at Anaconda was a great entrance to the mining industry and a time of tremendous learning,” she said. “I think what was achieved at Anaconda and now at Fortescue [Metals Group] are great examples of what can be done with the right team and the right strategy and focus. In a similar vein, what has been achieved by some of the new iron ore companies in WA is astonishing; Atlas Iron and Brockman Resources are two companies that immediately spring to mind and I admire both David Flanagan and Wayne Richards for what they have achieved in such a short space of time.”

Strategic planning, land access management, and government and community relations work with BHP Billiton Nickel West (where she was manager external affairs), WMC Resources, Anaconda Nickel, ConocoPhillips and Methanex Australia have helped prepare Barnes for her current role.

“The focus on strategy and implementation [as part of the executive leadership team of the BHPB WA nickel division] has been essential in this role,” she said. “During the past 10 months we have undertaken a strategic review of all assets and are moving through a phase now of project generation. The ability to determine a strategy, implement some hard decisions and remain focused on what we want to create in the future have been critical in this role and I think will be the biggest contributor to our future successes.”

“I was leaving BHP Billiton Nickel West in 2007 after an internal restructure. At the time I was looking to have an extended period of time off to spend with my family and travel as the previous years had been very busy. I had been with WMC Resources and the acquisition of WMC Resources by BHP Billiton had meant a lot of changes for the company. Through my network and one of the board members at Graynic, with whom I had worked previously at Anaconda, became aware that I would be available and they approached me to have a coffee to discuss the role and whether I would be interested. I was interested from the very first discussion. It sounded like a great challenge and a wonderful opportunity to put my mark on an organisation.”

Working in an increasingly tough environment for junior explorers (Graynic had about $A3 million in the bank at the end of 2007), Barnes is overseeing base metal exploration programs in Western Australia and New South Wales. The company’s priority project has been the Quartz Circle zinc-silver prospect near Nullagine in WA’s East Pilbara, which has been explored periodically over three decades and thrown up some significant drill intercepts but never any real understanding of structural controls on the mineralisation detected. As well as the Emperor target at Quartz Circle, Graynic is assessing a small, near-surface copper deposit at the Igloo prospect. First recognised by Pancontinental back in 1992, it has also yielded some interesting copper and silver drill hits requiring substantial follow-up.

“The key challenges at the moment for me relates very much to the basics of running a mining company: getting a drill rig on site, obtaining the necessary approvals and finding the right people to join the team,” Barnes said.

“I would have to say at the moment the team aspect is the one where we have been the most successful and is the most essential part of getting our strategy right moving forwards. The key opportunity for us at the moment is our work around project generation and attracting a new project into the company. There is significant competition in this area, which means we have to be able to work very quickly and look for opportunities in areas others may have overlooked.”

Away from work, Barnes loves the sun and surf. She is a member of the Sorrento Surf Lifesaving Club, along with her husband Stuart and two daughters, 19-year-old Stephanie and 11-year-old Sienna, and she also enjoys swimming, scuba diving, bike riding, and the occasional triathlon. Barnes regularly participates in the Rottnest Channel Swim and in 2008 completed a solo crossing of the Cocos Islands Channel Swim. She is also fluent in French.

In 2005 Barnes, along with Megan Anwyl (chair of the North West Iron Ore Alliance), launched a women’s networking group which meets every two months or so for a dinner and discussion around a particular topic.

“The women that form part of that club I find a great source of inspiration and a very valuable network through which you can usually have most of your questions answered. This group of women are all outstanding achievers, and not all are from the mining industry, so you have a more balanced view around the table rather than an industry specific approach.”

This article was reproduced from HighGrade (