Maryse Belanger, 56, is a geologist and chief operating officer at Atlantic Gold Corp., responsible for strategic development, overall operational and technical management; currently managing construction and commissioning projects in Nova Scotia.
I was born in Chicoutimi, Que. When I was a teenager, I wanted to study French literature – I wanted to be a writer. A sister's boyfriend and a friend studied geology and said I should do it. So, I did a BSc in Geological Engineering at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi – loved it! Then I went to France for postgraduate studies in geostatistics. My first real job was on Vancouver Island for Westmin Resources, then Echo Bay Mines that had great technical people. In Edmonton, I had this epiphany, "this is it – when I'm grown up and a seasoned professional I want to be a vice-president of technical services."
Young people should understand everybody needs a mentor. George Woollett was mine, but a lot of what I learned about dealing with boards, presentations and executives – professional behaviour – I learned from him. He was the biggest influence in my professional life. A few years ago, I called to see if he could meet. We had a four-hour lunch – he was shocked at the things I could quote he'd said over the years.
When the gold industry started going down, I decided I should become a copper expert and learn Spanish. Fluor Corp. sent me to Santiago, Chile. I spent a year working on some of the largest copper projects in the world. Back in Vancouver, I consulted for Echo Bay on projects in West Africa and met (my husband) on an Ivory Coast beach. We eventually moved to South Africa. After our second daughter was born, he finished his work there, two years. I was back in Toronto with our daughters. I told my VP I needed a change, having a mid-life crisis working in Siberia. He asked what I wanted to do; I said, "go to South America." We all moved to Santiago, a great adventure. Late 2009, I was headhunted for Goldcorp to build their technical-services group – full circle from my 1988 dream.
The first time we moved to Brazil, we decided it would be good for our girls to have their dad at home – those were fun years. Our oldest daughter didn't go to an English school until Grade 9.
Wherever we are, there's an invisible line in the kitchen, I do not touch anything. I can only do three things; I make tea, coffee and reservations.
Gold was dormant, in this region mined as early as the 1840s. Everybody focused on underground mining, sampling selectively. We went to the old drill holes to sample top to bottom. The genius of Atlantic Gold is that on top of quartz veins with gold, there's also disseminated gold, mined open pit. I like a football-field analogy, three storeys high filled with Raisin Bran cereal – single scoop – find the raisins. Our costs here are reasonable because we don't have a camp, everybody goes home that day; 98 per cent are originally from Nova Scotia. Many never had opportunities in the province. My chief engineer, she flew into Northern Ontario for seven years. My chief metallurgist, from Waverly, worked five years in the Dominican Republic and a Surinam jungle. Everybody has a story like that; it was a pleasure to offer people great opportunities here. So far, we've invested approximately $170-million; next year, we hope to file Environmental Impact Statements on two projects. Combining our four projects, it's potentially $400-million in total investment, with 400 to 450 positions.
I've been on five boards. I'm doing the Institute of Corporate Directors course, the term "pale, male and stale" from a lawyer, about diversity. There's a business case for diversity – if you want to find the best solutions, why would you forget about 50 per cent of the brains? With cultural diversity, different ways to solve problems get better solutions.
For me, the world is divided in two – makes sense, doesn't make sense; there's no in between. More important than anything is accountability – everyone having the clarity of their responsibility and understanding their span of control.
If you want a career, be flexible and go where the work is, take risks, go on an adventure, learn new things and new languages. I'm fluent in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. The trick is to never stop learning. Take on new challenges. Advice I share is about professional behaviour: The standard is, be willing to stand up in front of a panel of peers and defend your work.
As told to Cynthia Martin. This interview has been edited and condensed.