Ensuring that all construction and mining requirements were available onsite has been a pivotal component of the mine’s potential success, and has recently lent itself to dealing with early challenges and teething problems.
Minor redesigns of the project and the implementation of new equipment is something that Grande Côte has been able to respond to quickly and effectively to ensure that optimum productivity is returned to within as short a time as possible.
Finnis continued: “It’s very important to us that we are self-sustaining so we built everything ourselves to make sure everything is catered for onsite, to be as efficient as possible.
“We’ve built a large facility at the port to store our finished products and load the vessels, as well as building a power station onsite to provide our electrical needs. We also have a camp, power lines and our own water system to ensure we have everything we need, built ourselves.”
Supply chain management
Continuing in this vein, Grande Côte has also taken the same internal approach to its supply chain, and especially its distribution channels via rail.
“From this point of view, we have also installed a brand new railway from the mine to Mecke to connect in with the national rail network, and have refurbished the line from there to Dakar Port, which we are also managing as we transport minerals to the port,” Finnis said. “It’s been quite difficult because we’re introducing brand new trains and brand new roads and a different culture from the point of view of maintaining that rolling stock in Sengeal.”
As a consequence, $50 million has been invested into the rail builds and refurbishments with the operation having received a concession from the Government to manage it internally.
Finnis continued: “The rail development has led to a key risk being eliminated in getting our products to port. The roads here may be a lot better than in other African countries but it is still quite difficult from a traffic and efficiency standpoint. 700,000 tonnes per year heading to port is not feasible via trucks.”
For such a large scale operation, supply chain considerations have played an integral role from the outset, with Grande Côte requiring the correct skills and equipment throughout the construction phase.
In regards to the large amounts of steel, pipework, cables and dredges being purchased, availability simply isn’t there in Senegal, so a lot of the essential components were imported. However, the operation’s dedicated local focus was accounted for in terms of labour via nearby contracting companies.
“From a purchasing perspective now, we try and purchase locally as much as possible, keeping availability and price in mind,” Finnis added.
Employ and train
The theme of local commitment and corporate social responsibility (CSR) is one that resonates throughout everything that Grande Côte does, and becomes especially prevalent in regards to employment and people management over the entire lifecycle of the mine.
Similarly to the supply chain situation, the skill sets aren’t available in a lot of key operational areas, but this certainly does not mean that Grande Côte has cast aside the premise of local workers, and is instead devoting much of its efforts to developing and promoting the best that the surrounding region has to offer.
“It is true that in some areas the skill sets just aren’t there; there aren’t the people who can operate certain items of plants, so our philosophy is to employ and train,” Finnis said. “We have a highly skilled set of expats here doing the training for us and there are very well educated people here who will continue to grow in the organisation.
“Skill sets in areas like some trades, instrumentation and high tech plant aspects we don’t see exist, so we have to make sure we tailor our training and expatriate support for areas like that.
“We are looking long term and building for the future so that in a couple of years the local guys will have received the high levels of guidance and mentoring required to take over from the expats and to run things themselves.”
CSR and sustainability doesn’t just stop at employment opportunities either, with a tailored sustainability department set up to cover areas of environmental considerations, health and safety procedures, community initiatives and corporate aid.
“Beginning with the Grande Côte workers, in a perfect world we employ people locally rather than from Dakar so they can go home every night to their families, get plenty of rest and come to work refreshed and happy,” Finnis said. “We have therefore started a housing scheme so our workers can afford to buy and own their own home over a number of years.
“We have set this up with BHS, a Senegalese institution that specifically targets the support of housing projects, where they will purchase land and we will assist in getting our people approved for mortgages which is usually a difficult process. We will look out for them and do what we can to help them get their own home in the local area, close to where they work.”
A strong health and safety adherence promotes this ethos further, with hazard identification a pivotal factor not only for the organisation’s direct employees, but also the local population in general.
Finnis continued: “It is not uncommon in Senegal to see things like people riding around on the roofs of buses, and other hazardous behaviours but of course we can’t accept that because of the safety risk to our people.
“We therefore spend a lot of time training and planning to make sure that everything is not just as environmentally efficient as possible, but is also as safe as possible.”
Following the eight years of hard work, the next key phase to dictate the overall success of Grande Côte will be the market’s acceptance of the organisation’s products, something which Finnis anticipates being a relatively smooth transition, based on feedback already received.
“Every time you introduce a new product, customers need to get used to that and we’ve sent some trial parcels to various places like China and North America over the past year,” the CEO explained. “We have seen acceptance of the products on a trial basis and we hope to do long term business with them, on ilmenite especially. From a zircon perspective we already have some long term partnerships in place.”
There will inevitably be a period of time now while prospective customers assess the products coming out of Grande Côte but there is likely to always be a product among the range which is performing well to ensure the ongoing success of the overall operation.
“The products we’re going to make are high quality and they will gain market acceptance,” Finnis said. “There will always be periods in the industry when the market is soft and then times where it’s good. It’s just a case of getting from one period to the other as smoothly as possible.
“For instance, the market is robust on the zircon side of the business right now but soft in the ilmenite market.”
World class business
While many companies have short and medium term goals, the lifecycle of this mine means that Grande Côte can look even further ahead at the bigger picture, and Finnis believes that much of the organisation’s overall targets will be visible within just five years, especially in regards to its influence on Senegal.
“In five years’ time we will be a well-known and well understood business in Senegal,” the CEO concluded. “We’ll be an integral part of the community, providing a continuous revenue stream and providing jobs to local people.
“In just a few years, the number of expats will be reduced, the expertise of the locals will be increased and we will be providing a platform for the people of Senegal to go on to bigger and better things in the future as well.
“We’ve come in and built a world class business and it deserves to be managed to the highest levels possible.”