Head of finance Martin van der Walt hopes to change the mining industry by focusing on people and tech.
Martin van der Walt was a young South African road cycling champion, with dreams of becoming a professional cyclist. However, opting to pursue a career as a chartered accountant (CA) instead has enabled him to make a difference in the industry.
He says that although there are challenges faced by accountants, including fraud across the country, the profession remains a ray of hope as it opens doors to many possibilities that people can venture into. “The opportunities for CAs in South Africa are endless. You can stay in auditing, join the private sector, start your own practice or do consulting work.”
Now, Martin heads up the SA Gold Operation’s finance division for Sibanye-Stillwater, a multinational mining and metals processing group with a diverse portfolio of projects and investments across five continents.
Having worked for the company for over ten years in various roles ranging from group financial reporting and central accounting to integrated services, Martin has learnt the art of being resilient in an ever-changing environment.
“I have grown to enjoy the challenge of optimising the ability we have to extend the lives of our operations to create a sustainable future,” he said.
He said that taking the SVP head of finance role in December last year was a strategic move for him. Martin said he was fascinated by the company’s ability and approach to addressing the challenges of loadshedding and its adaptability to new technology.
With new technology on the rise, which has resulted in new strategies being developed and deployed to reduce climate-related risks in the locations where mines are situated, Martin said he is proud of the direction the company is taking and excited to be part of the team that is driving the change.
Being the youngest senior vice president in the company’s history, he plans to use his experience to help the company in the challenging South African mining environment.
In the dynamic accounting industry, staying ahead of trends is essential. Martin highlights how accountants are increasingly expected to deliver high-quality work while being tech-savvy.
Martin added that the accounting industry can benefit from the new artificial intelligence technology which can help leaders save time on tedious work. “I always tell my team to embrace automation because it takes over the repetitive, mundane work that needs to get done,” he said.
He added that AI is not a threat to the profession, because it currently does not have the ability to analyse and interpret data the way humans can. “Once I take that repetitive work away from my team, it actually gives them more time to be the differentiator in terms of analysing and interpreting data and information. I still believe that automation only gives information that still needs to be validated and analysed. The profession will always stay relevant in interpreting information because AI summarises more than really giving you an answer,” he said.
Sibanye-Stillwater is among the biggest private-sector employers in South Africa. Inspired by the impact and change he gets to make to the staff of SA Gold operations, Martin said he is excited to be part of the team that helps to keep the livelihood of the employees going. He added that the position has given him an opportunity to impact more than 25,000 people in the business.
“If you can extend the life of an operation people have jobs for longer and communities have companies that they serve for longer. There’s a significant impact on these mining towns and communities,” he said.
He added that, during his time at the company, he has had the opportunity to contribute to a vision that continues to transform the finance and mining industry. Martin is thrilled about extending the life of the operation in the country. Currently, the SA Gold operations have underground mining and surface treatment facilities at Beatrix situated in the Free State and Driefontein and Kloof, situated in the Witwatersrand Basin.
“I'm really excited about the opportunity that I’ve been granted with the gold assets and mining in general because there’s a finite life to mineral assets that can be mined safely, which is an opportunity to change lives,” he said.
Martin believes in making a long-lasting impact on the lives of the employees of SA Gold operations.
As a leader in such a huge company, Martin places great emphasis on the significance of maintaining agility in the face of constant change, while strategically planning for opportunities. He collaboratively drives projects from a finance perspective, cementing partnerships that are crucial for SA Gold’s continued success. Apart from paying attention to the finances of the business, as a leader, Martin believes strong teams deliver the best results.
Beyond the boardroom
Martin has a passion for the outdoors and enjoys spending quality time with his wife and two young children.
“I enjoy any activities that are outdoors. I grab an opportunity for the odd business golf when the opportunity arises. I also still enjoy cycling and hunting every winter with my family and friends,” he said.