Elizabeth Lewis-Gray is co-founder and Chair of Gekko Systems, based in Ballarat, Victoria. She is Chair of Austmine, the largest industry body representing the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector in Australia. Elizabeth was inducted into the Australian Businesswomen’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
By Camila Reed
I worked as an analyst for a stock broking firm and used to look at mining stocks to advise my clients.
Then, I married a gold miner. We moved to a small country town and I found myself with nothing to do. My husband was an alluvial miner, a “backyard” inventor and he developed processing equipment.
Being isolated, I was looking for something to do and decided to start selling his inventions. I received a grant from the government and set up our own company which I managed.
My experience overall has been very positive. My good listening skills and my positive view of the industry have been an advantage. I enjoy the industry and its people.
Sometimes you can’t get your message across; it can be especially difficult to speak to mining people from the supply side.
Working in the industry has given me the opportunity to sit on a number of government and other boards – opportunities that might not have come otherwise.
Having your own company means you have less exposure to mentors and sponsors. I have never had direct mentors but have had many supporters. Among them, Dr Neil McAdam, a senior lecturer from my MBA course, and Dale Elphinstone, who sits on the Board of Gekko Systems.
I invited them to develop the strategy plan for the business. They were instrumental over the years in helping run and organise the company.
The biggest challenge while setting up the company was that I had no connections in mining. I had new technology to sell in a traditional market place and my husband wasn’t from the hard/rock/big end of mining. He hadn’t risen through the usual channels or completed a degree.
In the early days being a woman ended up being an advantage: I used my listening and people skills to understand people’s concerns and needs, how the company could address their problems and I respected their views.
She says she was “a bit more naïve, less battle-worn and didn’t see the problems around her” so ploughed through.
More recently, Elizabeth says that as a woman in a senior position the challenge is “being heard”. Now she knows mining well and knows how difficult it is to achieve change within the sector.
Other challenges she faces are: being competitive selling from Australia (high-cost base) on a global scale.
To respond to that challenge she accepted the position of Chair of Austmine  and founded a not-for-profit organisation around improving energy efficiency in mining in January 2011 called CEEC International .
I am passionate about changing the industry for the better. Mining has lots of potential to improve. It’s why I set up CEEC. Women in particular through their soft skills can contribute to that change in a collaborative way.
Next Elizabeth will return to her MD duties at Gekko Systems while keeping her other roles. She had stepped down from Gekko for a year (whilst remaining Chair of the Board) to restructure Austmine and bring in a new CEO, tasks that required her full-time attention.
She was previously on the board of Austmine for 8 years and thoroughly enjoys the role. She would like to learn more about mining and project finance.
What would have been tremendously beneficial then would have been to know that to promote technology and change it is easier to sell the social and financial aspect of how change will be brought on rather than selling the technological advancement.
Her potential clients are people who have been using traditional equipment for years, they are risk-averse. There is little incentive or budgets for them to invest in change and they are partly risk-averse because if they get it wrong they look bad. In contrast professionals in financial roles are prepared to invest in change if it brings financial gain in the long-term.
Yes, I sit on a number of boards: I am the Chair of the Gekko Systems Board, Chair of Austmine and Patron of CEEC.
Outside these Chair appointments, I have previously sat on the Board of Innovation Precincts, which was a government initiative that identifies areas of competitive advantage for Australia; on the Innovation Australia Board and on the Resources Supply Advisory Forum (BAHA).
The government board appointments have taught me how to bring about change within a government environment, through the power of debate. Through CEEC I have learned how to bring people together with a common mission.
I would relish the opportunity to sit on a board of a large mining company reviewing projects.
I am pro quotas for a set period to instigate change.
I was frequently the only woman on the board and it was difficult at first but I quickly got into the hang of things; I am not a shy flower, she says. This is why I suggest companies have a minimum of two women on their board.
Women in mining groups are essential and there needs to be enough women to feel safe and supported. WIM groups are a place where their issues are debated and solutions sought.
Women bring team building and communication skills to the industry. WIM groups can help promote those skills to an industry that definitely needs it. It is also important to get male champions on board.
Look to the future, not to the past and
Regard your female skills as an advantage
Austmine is an Industry Association that represents Australian based Mining Equipment Technology and Service (METS) suppliers to the mining sector. This sector is an important one, representing around 3% of GVA (Gross Value Added) to the Australian economy. METS play a critical role in facilitating innovation and productivity in the mining sector globally and is a knowledge based industry. Turnover in the sector was AUD $90bn at its peak in FY June 2012.
The Coalition for Eco Efficient Comminution (CEEC) is an exciting global venture focused on promoting alternative strategies for improving energy efficiency around the comminution for the mining sector. www.ceecthefuture.org
Elizabeth Lewis-Gray is co-founder and Chair of Gekko Systems, based in Ballarat, Victoria. Gekko is a world leader in gold and silver processing technology, and energy (processing) efficient modular plants, design, construction and operation. The company was established in 1996 and in addition to its head office in Ballarat, has offices in Perth, Vancouver, Johannesburg, and Santiago.
Elizabeth is Chair of Austmine, the peak industry body in Australia for the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector, a $90 billion industry. She was a member of the Australian Federal Government’s National Precincts Board and after eight years, recently retired from the Innovation Australia Board. Elizabeth was inducted into the Australian Businesswoman’s Hall of Fame in 2000, is a Fellow of the Financial Services Institute of Australasia (FINSIA), and has won several awards including the Warren Centre’s Innovation Heroes Award.
The Patron of CEEC (Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution), Elizabeth was visionary in the formation of this not-for-profit organisation which aims to accelerate knowledge and change transfer in the field of eco-efficient comminution. CEEC has the capacity to have a meaningful global impact on energy consumption in mining and has recently been awarded the 2013 Mining Magazine Editor’s award.
Prior to her involvement in the mining sector, Elizabeth worked in stockbroking and strategic planning. Her qualifications include a Bachelor Degree in Economics, and a Masters in Business Management.