Acacia CFO Jaco Maritz on personal growth, people development and mountain biking

Jaco Maritz has 18 years of mining experience, but he's proudest of the people he's developing.

Jaco Maritz has been working in the mining industry for 18 years, gaining a wealth of experience that prepared him to take on the role of CFO of Acacia Mining at the beginning of last year. He reflects on gaining both breadth and depth of experience, on the importance of empowering others, and on how mountain biking clears his head.
 
You have built your career entirely in mining businesses. How did this come to be?
“I went the traditional route, studying to be a CA, then articles with PwC at the end of the nineties. I never planned to be in mining, but I got to know it through PwC and found it interesting because there are so many variables, and there are always challenges. At PwC, I worked with a Canadian company called Placer Dome, who were invested into South Deep with Western Areas. They ultimately offered me a job post articles, so I started with them in 2001, and eighteen years later, I am still working for the same group of companies, although there have been various moves and takeovers.

“Barrick took over Placer Dome in 2010. I was based in South Africa, having spent three years at South Deep to get that operational experience, to understand the mining business. Then I came back to the corporate side in Joburg, and then spent three years at the Barrick head office in Toronto in the corporate finance area, gaining international experience and working closely with the executives  on the life-of-mine plans, as well as project finance.

“Then, in my third year there, the decision was made to do an IPO for African Barrick Gold in London. I came back to South Africa, because the finance centre for the new London-listed company would be here, separate from Barrick, because finance for a listed company brings its own requirements. Since then, I’ve held numerous finance positions in the company.

“So I’ve worked in all the different finance areas – reporting, treasury, supply chain and the IT Space as well. I’ve worked closely with the mines, and got good experience in that. And I’ve set up shared services over the years.

“For the four years before last year, I was in the general manager: finance role, overseeing all the operations’ finance activities and supply chains. Then, at the beginning of last year, I took up the CFO role for the company.”

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your various roles with the group?
“There have been a lot of changes over the years, and the fall of the gold price in 2012 made things interesting, but my focus has always been driving the business to ensure cashflows and to make margin.

“Because we have multiple mines in Tanzania, there are economies of scale to be realised in terms of efficiencies. So we’ve transitioned a lot to Tanzania over the years, to be closer to the operations and to be more efficient as well, and through that we’ve built a strong relationship with our operations and teams, to support them on a continuous basis in the business.

“We are also dealing with some issues in Tanzania, and trying to get resolution. We are operating two of our mines fully, but had to put one mine on reduced operations because we can’t export any concentrate at the moment because of export ban in place. There are negotiations with government, which Barrick is leading, and we are supporting, which should hopefully get a resolution soon.

“In the meantime, we’ve made changes at operations on the other two mines, so that they are generating cashflow now. We’ve also sold some of our non-core assets to increase liquidity in the business, and we’re continuously looking at hedging to reduce risk on the pricing side as well. We’re trying to be as lean and efficient as possible, so we’re reducing some of our overheads and some of our discretionary spend, without limiting the operations’ ability to produce.

“Then we’re also continuously focusing on the people to motivate them through this period.”

Which aspect of your work makes you proudest?
“If we look back at the successes we’ve had in people development, that’s really close to my heart. Through the years, we’ve taken some of my Tanzanian colleagues through the corporate office, and they are now in senior positions. One is the GM at a mine and the others are commercial managers. We’ve really had great success in localising the positions in the finance area, so we’re really managing to get this development going there. That’s something we’re proud to have achieved – not just myself, but the whole team.

“We’ve really got depth in the team, and accountability. Building relationships is a philosophy that’s important to me to create. The team has a culture of accountability and commitment, which is important to create trust with our colleagues and stakeholders.”

Are you looking to expand the business’s operations anywhere else?
“We’re continuously looking at growing and diversifying the business. We have looked at where we allocate exploration, and have an ongoing programme of spending in Kenya and West Africa. We’re looking at specific properties in the portfolio to identify where we can enhance performance with minimal investment.”

Do you have to travel much in this position, and how do you balance that with family time?
“Yes, that part of the job has certainly escalated. With investor relations, I have to be involved in all the board meetings, and dealing with the banks. I go up to Tanzania regularly, and my family is in Joburg. I have a wife and three children between five and 12, so I try to keep that balanced. I try to put the phone down on the weekend and make the effort to spend focused time with them and support them with a lot of activities.”

Do you manage to make any time for yourself?
“I think that mountain biking is a great stress reliever. It’s the new golf. I was always a golfer, but now mountain biking is the main thing. I’ve not competed actively yet because I only started two years back, so I am only at the half-marathon stage, but I’m ready to take it up a step. I find it really relaxes you. You have to be focused, so it takes your mind off other things. It’s also such a steep learning curve. You think, ‘How am I ever going to do 100km?’ Then you put more time into it and ultimately you get there. The more time you put into it and the more you practise, the steeper you can make your goals. But you’ve got to put in the time and get the experience. It’s like spending times in the mining operations and supply chain and getting close to the executives. You’ve got to get wide experience to lead a complex business like mining.

“I also like to follow the markets and invest in shares, especially on the JSE.”
 
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