Staying on the theme of putting the spotlight on talented women in leadership roles in mining, we caught up with Alison White, executive vice president and chief financial officer of SSR Mining.
Based in Denver, Colorado, White oversees accounting, finance, information technology and enterprise risk management for SSR. White has over 20 years of experience and held corporate roles at Newmont, including serving as the regional chief financial officer for North America. Before coming into the mining industry, she was the VP of internal audit for a global water and natural resources engineering firm and gained experience at MWH Global (now Stantec), KPMG, ConAgra Foods, Sun Microsystems and Ernst and Young.
Growing up fascinated with science, White went to college thinking she wanted to be a dentist, but ultimately started her career as a financial auditor. This fed her childhood curiosity about business, which was built up investing in the stock market with her dad. She has a B.S. in Finance from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a Master’s degree with an emphasis in accounting and is a licensed Certified Public Accountant.
White shared some career highlights and industry insights in this exclusive interview with MINING.COM.
MDC: What led you to a career in mining?
White: I worked in a number of industries, but what led me to mining was I saw a growth opportunity in terms of a larger organization to work for. That led me to mining about seven years ago, and I’m still here because I really appreciate the people I met within the industry, and its plays off of that science background that I’m interested in but didn’t specialize in, and I’m able to hone my business skills as well.
MDC: As CFO, do you get out to mining sites much?
White: I do. For mining projects we’re looking to improve margins, but we’re also looking for ways to be creative in the way that we’re operating, if there’s any efficiencies that we can gain, both from a process and an operational perspective that can help us from that bottom line, but I’m super people oriented too. What I really try to do is touch base with people. I was in Turkey [a few weeks ago] and met with the entire team in our Ankara office to really express an interest in them and build them up as professionals. I believe in team work, and when we work together we make a better team versus working individually. So anything I can do to promote that across SSR or across the industry, I really strive to do that with our teams.
MDC: What projects or initiatives are you working on now?
White: We’re always working on a number of things. I think from a sustainability perspective we’ve really tried to enhance what we’re doing in the green energy space — and talk about it more. I think mining is unique in the sense that mining has done a lot for the environment historically, but it hasn’t been talked about, as much as other industries have done. We look at the approach to climate change especially with three principles in mind. First is to understand what our risks are, the second is to measure and reduce any of those risks to the extent that we can, and finally to disclose what our performance is.
We’ve made a commitment and established a climate technical committee that is working toward any opportunity to reduce our emissions and look for opportunities to identify and prioritize risks and opportunities. We’re looking at what we can do to become more efficient in the local areas where we operate — whether that’s in Argentina or Nevada or Turkey or up in Saskatchewan.
We’re also looking at what we’re mining. We mine gold, but we also mine copper, lead and zinc, and now copper is taking a more prominent role in the ESG discussion [and] we’re making sure we’re using the copper that’s available to us at our assets and incorporating that into our overall product base as we look to the future.
MDC: What do you think are some of the challenges and opportunities facing women in the mining industry?
White: I would say that initially I wasn’t that attracted to mining. I worked across a lot of other industries and mining, was in my mind, more geared towards men. When I was interviewing for the role within the mining industry and the more people I was talking to I was thinking, ‘These are amazing, smart people with wonderful values, and so why wouldn’t I work in mining?’
The more I got to know people the more I liked it, but it also presented an opportunity for me to recognize, as a woman, that there aren’t tonnes of women that work in the industry. It’s certainly a number that a lot of mining companies are looking to grow an enhance — it’s something that we’re looking to change. I firmly believe that changing that narrative about it being geared towards men is something that all women – and men — can work to do. I think the industry is exciting because it does provide an opportunity for you to come in and be different from the get-go — in a good way to grow and help people around you to see things from a different lens or look at a problem differently. I think there’s a natural opportunity for women to fill a gap.
MDC: What do you think are some misconceptions about the mining industry?
White: I think there are some misconceptions around its negative impacts from a media perspective. There’s a tonne of positive impact that large mining companies can have on communities. We’re looking to better communities today — and into the future after the life of the mine ends. I think a lot of large mining companies are similar in that thought process. I think the general misconception is that it is not well thought out — it is.
I think the other misconception is about the relationship with the local community — it absolutely matters and that social license to operate is becoming increasingly important at a trajectory that is unparalleled, I think.
I think this lady is an accountant, not a miner!