Full Name: Jeanne Walls

Position: Director; Principal Geotechnical Consultant

Company/ Organisations: Jewal Consulting (Pty) Ltd

Date and Place of Birth: 24 March 1976, Greytown, KZN

Education: MEng (Rock Eng.), GDE (Mining), CoMAREC, BSc (Hons) Geophysics

First Job: Exploration geophysicist (first job in mining)

Personal Best Achievement/s: Discovering after nearly 20 years that I have achieved a meaningful career, accomplished my own financial independence, established my own business, and developed valu-able relationships amongst my peers, superiors, and young up-and-comings within the industry.

Philosophy of Life: Every one of us walks a different path. The world is bigger than we are as individ-uals, but we are each of us uniquely relevant. Most of us deserve a second chance, most of us deserve some considered understanding, and there is always beauty and redemption somewhere, if we’re brave enough to know it.

Favourite Food/Drink: A fine whiskey

Favourite Sport: Mountain Biking

Every one of us walks a different path. The world is bigger than we are as individ-uals, but we are each of us uniquely relevant. Most of us deserve a second chance, most of us deserve some considered understanding, and there is always beauty and redemption somewhere, if we’re brave enough to know it.

How did your career in the mining industry begin and where are you now?

It began when I was a little girl, reading the books on plate tectonics and geological process that my grandmother plied me with (those that know me will be unsurprised to discover that I had a somewhat unconventional childhood).

Why did you choose Rock Engineering?

To get away from geology (sorry, Ouma, met liefde!). Turns out, Rock Engineering wasn’t such a radical departure, though!

Please tell us a bit more about your career journey?

With a few twists and turns and a bursary from Gold Fields, I was committed to a career defined by studying geology. Which I ran away from, as soon as I could, and switched to geophysics, for which I had to abandon the paradise of Stellenbosch Univer-sity, and completed the programme at Wits university. This was still, sadly, not far enough away, so I dabbled in a few direc-tions, finally ran all the way to Taiwan to teach English, which lasted a few months, and promptly found myself back in South Africa, wondering what the hell to do with a degree in a field that I felt had never been my own choice to start with, but was definitely more likely to bring in more money than teaching and enable me to live a reasonably self-sufficient life.

So, I accepted a job in exploration geophysics. And the rest, as one might say, is history. Exploration geophysics led me to mine seismology in Welkom, which drove me to Rock Engineering with Anglo Platinum where my real development and ground-work in Rock Engineering practice was laid. After being appointed for a year as a Chief Rock Engineer, I applied to work at SRK Consulting where I was able to grow as a consulting Rock Engineer. All of this background enabled me to be where I am now, operating as my own boss and providing Rock Engineering services to the mining industry in South Africa, and interna-tionally.

In a nutshell, the greatest and most humbling lesson that I can take away is this: while we are mostly encouraged to “chase our passions”, “be whatever we want to be”, the reality is that even for the most privileged like myself, sometimes that’s not really the case. And we must learn to love, shape, embrace, and develop our careers, the work that we do, the income we draw, and the people that we work with. Much, if not most, of it, is driven not so much by choice (even though the idea of “choice” is a romantic idea), but by how we work with, and within, the constraints that we are given. I would have loved to do something different, but this is what I do. And I think I’m reasonably good at it, which speaks to my talents and skills, and so I get satisfac-tion from it. And it earns me a decent living. And these are good things, albeit not perfect. Learning to live with the imperfect – a very tough call for us as Engineers!

What are some areas that you believe will become of increasing importance in the near future of the Rock En-gineering discipline?

I would like to split this into people skills and technical skills. In South Africa, people skills comprise an understatement. This includes not only developing and shaping a critical skills pool through transfer of knowledge, effective mentoring and communi-cation, but the same can be said for the service we provide to the mining crews, production teams, management, labour, and legal (government) authorities. And for the technical component, the quantity and scope of data that we must process and in-tegrate into practical solutions can more and more become unwieldy and increasingly abstract. Data management solutions comprise, in my opinion, a key and critical focus area. It’s tempting to want to “reinvent the wheel”, or to coin the currently fashionable term “innovate” (just a new way of saying “invent”), but real innovation seems to me to be more a product of un-derstanding and meaningful problem-solving than merely to “develop something new” for the sake of it. If we apply what we know to new problems, the outcome is automatically an innovation. And since what we know seems to be coupled to an ex-ponentially growing body of data (information), we must first understand how to process and apply the data. Then the innova-tion will follow as an outcome.

What you put in is what you get out. Learn to work with what you can control or influence, and don’t try to control the rest. And to quote Margaret Thatcher, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

What advice would you offer people aspiring to be in your position?

Firstly, I’m rather flattered to be considered to hold a position that anyone would wish to aspire to. Thank you. Per-haps, looking at my own way of doing things, I could suggest a few things:

  • Cherish the relationships that you’ve built and don’t be afraid to apologise later.
  • Speak your mind but remember that it comes at a price. Own what you say, believe in yourself, and stand by what you say. Remember that you know yourself best, better than anyone else. Trust your instincts.
  • BUT, if (when) you mess it up (because you will), be humble. If it’s a personal mess up, mend your fences, build your bridges and carry on. If it’s a technical mess up, accept it, ask for advice, own it and accept someone else’s superior knowledge. Never be too proud to ask, or concede. And never be too humble to defend your point.
  • And lastly, apply what you’ve learnt, and never stop learning new things, or doing things you’ve never done be-fore. It’s how you grow.
  • And after that, cherish your own personal objectives. Whatever else you do, you’re working for your personal gain. Invest in yourself.

Who is your role model / mentor?

It’s difficult to single out any particular individual, so I’m not going to. Many peers, superiors and personal acquaintances have, and continue to, develop, shape and inspire me. In Rock Engineering, there have been a few key persons who have played an important role in helping with my development and I won’t mention them here (they know who they are). I’ve tried to steer away from the perspective of being a woman in the industry, but it’s meaningless to try to deny the effect that the greatest vacuum for me has been the absence of a senior woman role model in this field. This means that the network of women currently in the field constitutes some of the most supportive women whom I’ve known, even though we’re far-flung, and few in between.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

What you put in is what you get out. Learn to work with what you can control or influence, and don’t try to control the rest. And to quote Margaret Thatcher, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”