PW Mining has built up a formidable reputation in West Africa for being a reliable contractor to some of the region’s most important projects
Writer: Tom Wadlow
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
Ghanaian mining is on the rise.
Currently the second-largest African producer of gold, the West African nation is also a prolific miner of bauxite, iron ore and manganese, minerals which have helped the sector record revenues of around $1.27 billion in the second quarter of 2018.
This is the culmination of a steady, sustained growth period since the start of 2016, which saw Q1 income reach a comparatively modest $577 million.
“One thing you can always say is that West Africa is an exciting place,” comments Tony O’Neill, General Manager (Contracts) at Ghana’s PW Mining. “There are a number of mining projects coming online, and we are chasing opportunities across quite a few.”
PW is a leading general contractor, operating in contract mining, civil engineering, building construction and property development, with industrial construction representing another area of expertise.
While current mining opportunities appear aplenty according to O’Neill, PW as an engineering operator can be traced back 70 years when it was incorporated as H&D Flinn in Ireland.
“By 1963 the Company had undergone massive expansion, playing a major role in some of the largest, most prestigious civil engineering projects ever undertaken in the country,” O’Neill adds. “To reflect its developing status, the name was changed to Public Works Ltd and later to PW Ltd.”
Indeed, the firm began operating in West Africa in the early 1970s before the Ghana subsidiary founded in 1995. In 2007, PW Mining was formed as a business unit to address the ever-growing mining workload being undertaken, with its footprint today stretching from Sierra Leone to the Republic of Congo.
Tony O’Neill and PW Mining
O’Neill has been involved with the Company since 1997, having worked in several engineering and management positions in the Irish construction industry.
“At that point, I felt that the time had come to make a change of location and career direction, in the overseas market,” he recalls. “Therefore, when I spotted the recruitment advertisement by PW, I applied for a position.
“I liked the thought of coming to Africa and experiencing new culture and practices. I was hired and initially I thought I’d give the expat life a couple of years. 22 years later and I have still not returned, and I have enjoyed every bit of my career here. I’ve been able to gain experience, both professional and personal, which I would most likely not have encountered had I remained at home.”
Striking gold with Teranga
In Burkina Faso, the Company has undertaken a three-pronged series of work for Teranga Gold Corporation at its Wahgnion Gold Project.
Having tracked the potential of this site for several years prior to being awarded its contract, PW initially secured the site earthworks development which it began in January 2018.
Thereafter it signed up for a concrete works package, and finally a contract for pit development in the Nangolo Pit on site, rounding off a project that demonstrates to prospective mining clients in the region the breadth of its capabilities.
Commenting on its upcoming pipeline of work, O’Neill adds: “We have numerous opportunities but each one will be hard fought for by ourselves and our competitors. This is a very competitive period for contractors such as us.
“The most exciting project right now is the move into the Esaase operations for Asanko Gold in Ghana. This opens up a new phase on the Obotan gold mine and all contract parties involved, and the local communities and other stakeholders share our excitement, recognising the benefits this new mining front will bring to Ghana.”
Back to the beginning
The Obotan mine also represents an important historical milestone for PW.
“Our first venture into open pit mining remains a precious memory,” recalls O’Neill. “Starting in 1997, we performed all contract mining at the Obotan Gold Mine for the complete lifecycle for Resolute Mining from Australia.
“This project demonstrated that we had made the jump from a well-known and respected civil engineering contractor into a fully-fledged mining contractor.”
From here, the Company routinely broke into new markets and built up a formidable track record of completing milestone projects.
“North Mara in Tanzania (2002), Youga in Burkina Faso (2007) and Syama in Mali (2008) were landmark projects for us, clear stepping stones which have taken PW Mining to its current position in the African mining sector,” adds O’Neill.
More recently the firm secured contract mining work at Obotan from Asanko Gold, a happy return for PW after the mine was reopened.
For O’Neill, a key factor in PW’s successful track record is its ability to respond flexibly and make decisions quickly thanks to its relatively flat organisational structure and private ownership.
“One of our key objectives as a company is to deliver top class value and service to our clients by providing cost effective, quality workmanship which is executed with due regard to all HSE parameters, and to deliver completion of our contracts on agreed timelines,” he explains. “These points are critical to us, and we strive to achieve all of them on all projects.”
This value and service proposition has been boosted by the opening of a new centralised equipment maintenance workshop in Tema.
Around 4,000 square metres in size, the facility consolidates operations for heavy equipment and transport and caters for in-house component rebuilding. The site also has a purpose-built customs bonded area to improve clearing times from the port.
“During 2018 we imported additional dozers, and articulated and rigid dumptrucks to support our load and haul operations,” says O’Neill. “These purchases not only serve to replace equipment reaching the end of effective service, but also to grow our fleet to enable readiness for a quick start up on newly secured projects.
“In that vein, a new CAT 6030 excavator arrived in Ghana in Q4 2018 and throughout the year the production fleet has been supplemented by further procurement of support equipment.”
People and partners
While investment in state-of-the-art equipment and facilities has been crucial to PW’s ability to serve clients, the firm is also reliant on its team of boundary-pushing employees.
To ensure the Company has the best chance of attracting and retaining the requisite talent, it provides generous compensation and benefits packages, industry-leading working conditions and opportunities for training and professional development.
For O’Neill, the latter is especially important. “We have always believed in encouragement of innovation and initiative,” he says. “If staff are up for a challenge, we will recognise that and will certainly provide the opportunity to confront it.
“Many of our staff recognise that PW will encourage them towards levels of performance that previously they may not have attained. By offering these opportunities we build up a loyal team of employees.”
PW can also draw on a loyal base of partners that make up its procurement and supply chain network.
These companies specialise in sourcing, inspecting, shipping and clearing goods across West Africa, facilitating a seamless operation, while major suppliers of equipment and materials are utilised locally where possible.
“Partnerships are vital,” says O’Neill. “They should be based on all facets of the business relationship, and while cost is vitally important, we feel it is equally important not to become blinkered by this single parameter.
“Time and again we observe the good-fast-cheap triangle at play. You can get any two but not all three. We have built up solid relationships with key partners, reaching the optimum position with them in terms of value, quality and expediency.”
And it is this threefold value that O’Neill hopes and expects to continue delivering to its own clients in the future.
He concludes: “I want us to strengthen our reputation to the point that our mining clients consider us to be a strategic partner – they believe that we are the best contract mining company in Africa, they wish to partner with us on a repeat basis and they know us for our integrity, excellence, and quality of delivery.”