As Kavango’s work on the ground in Botswana continues to gather pace, we caught up with our chief operating officer, Brett Grist, to learn more about the experiences that shaped his career and led him to the position he fills today….
“I got into geology and mining from growing up in south-west England,” says Brett, a geologist with an impressive track record of working for exploration companies in Africa, the Middle East, Australia and the UK prior to joining us at Kavango.
For Brett, it all began back in one of England’s most prolific mining areas when he was a child.
“In north Dartmoor, there are a number of old workings around,” he says. “I used to spend my weekends running around those old mines.”
The interest became serious enough to take him to the Royal School of Mines in London, where he began to get an appreciation, he says, of what really makes a mining project work.
After university his next step was to go to Australia, where he worked on gold projects in some of the most famous districts based in the west of the country.
“My first job as a fresh-faced Pom in Australia was working on a rig in Coolgardie,” he says.
It was an old project, which allowed him to take what he calls “an archaeological interest” in the various stages that mines go through. What’s more, the company he worked for also had two operating mines, which allowed him to learn his way around a producing operation.
Once his Australian visa ran out, Brett returned to Europe, joined the well-known mining consultancy ACA Howe, and spent some time working on gold projects in Portugal.
But Africa was beckoning.
A passion for exploration in Africa
“I’d always wanted to go to Africa,” says Brett, and his chance finally came when an opportunity arose at Reunion Mining, a company that was eventually swallowed up by Anglo American.
First off, he worked for Reunion on gold exploration in Mali. Then, he jumped over to Ghana, to work up the Chirano project.
“Chirano was still in its early stages back then,” he reminisces, pointing to the fact that it subsequently got sold to Redback of Australia, and then on again to Kinross, where it was something of a centerpiece.
But as Chirano was changing hands, Brett decided to rejoin some of his peers from Reunion, who went on to form ZincOx.
ZincOx was a prominent constituent of London’s Alternative Investment Market for many years, most of which Brett spent working on its assets in Yemen. It was on the ground in Yemen that he really picked up the feel for community relations that he’s now beginning to bring to bear on behalf of us at Kavango in Botswana.
For as long as Yemen was stable it worked well for ZincOx. Brett was able to guide the project there through to the feasibility stage, negotiating with the government along the way, and engaging with ambassadors and the International Finance Corporation. And all the while he kept the community on side too, through open dialogue and measures such as ensuring effective training and employment were provided.
Eventually though, following the Arab Spring, the security situation became unstable, and it was time to leave.
Brett went back to Africa, where as CEO he got to lead work on Casa Mining’s Misisi gold project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I joined that project at early-stage exploration and grew it into a 1.2-million-ounce resource,” he says. “Again, it was a very challenging environment. But the key to working successfully in situations like that is: don’t promise what you can’t deliver.”
After four years of working in the DRC, it was time to spend a bit of time at home, so Brett joined the Strategic Minerals subsidiary Cornwall Resources in its quest for tin, tungsten and copper in the south-west of England.
“We showed people you can advance an exploration discovery in the modern day in England,” he says. That’s a fine achievement in itself, and although it seems clear now, it wasn’t at all obvious just a few short years ago.
“Deep down, though,” continues Brett, “I wanted to go back to Africa.”
Brett was already acquainted with Kavango through connections related to Reunion and ZincOx. So, when the opportunity arose to join the company, he jumped at the chance.
Several things mitigated in our favour, he says.
First, Botswana is about as good a mining destination in Africa as it’s possible to get.
Second, the exploration opportunities on offer are highly prospective.
Third, the Kavango team combined youth and experience, energy and wisdom. The team on the ground, he says, is particularly strong.
He joined in February 2022, and we’re happy to say that it’s been all go ever since.