Farm boy from Manitoba hits the big time

Kelvin Dushnisky is chief executive officer of AngloGold Ashanti in Johannesburg.  |  AngloGold Ashanti photo

Kelvin Dushnisky, who grew up on a farm near Birtle, now runs the third largest gold mining company in the world

No matter where life takes Kelvin Dushnisky, chief executive officer of AngloGold Ashanti in Johannesburg, South Africa, he still considers Manitoba his home.

“I have lived in a few places but unequivocally when I am asked where I call home, the answer is Manitoba,” says Dushnisky. “I am very proudly Manitoban and I promote the province wherever I go.”

Dushnisky grew up on a farm southeast of Birtle, Man., as the youngest in a family of five children. He graduated high school in 1981 then moved to Winnipeg to attend the University of Manitoba where he earned his bachelor of science degree, then to British Columbia where he made his home for the next several years while he completed his Masters and then his Juris Doctor (law) degree. During his formative years in Birtle, he learned the simple rural values that have served him well throughout his career, and helped shape him as the man leading the third-largest gold mining company in the world.

“The life experience (of) growing up on the farm at Birtle was defining,” says Dushnisky. “Of course, I didn’t know it then, but I attribute much of what I bring to my current role as a product of what shaped me there, especially the work ethic I saw, most particularly from my parents.”

Although he credits many mentors over the course of his professional career, and was greatly influenced and shaped by the community, family and friends growing up, the person he most admires to this day is his mother, Helen Dushnisky.

“She was friendly and decent to everyone with whom she interacted,” said Dushnisky. “I don’t recall her having an unkind word to say about anyone or (hear her) complain about anything — she could always see the bright side. I still think of her almost every day, and although she set an impossibly high crossbar, I try to emulate her to the (best) extent possible.”

He says being raised in a rural setting laid important foundations for his ability to interact with people from all social strata.

“I am fortunate to feel equally comfortable interacting with people at our operations and in local communities as I am when meeting heads of state.”

He says the importance of education and hard work was instilled early in his life. He learned the discipline and traits necessary to carry out good work and not accept “close enough” as an accomplishment.

“All of these things I have taken with me as a result of growing up in small town Manitoba.”

He also says that being raised in a small town and having lived in an era that has seen much change has helped him adapt to circumstances encountered in his professional life.

“Things were modest and we did not have many of the modern conveniences when I was growing up that we do now. Someone who has never had the experiences — both good and challenging — that come from growing up in a small town setting cannot replicate them later in life.”

Dushnisky didn’t set out to be the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company, particularly not in the mining sector, but a series of interconnected events, employment opportunities, and good old-fashioned work ethic brought the pieces of the puzzle together.

His first exposure to the mining sector came while working for Rescan, a Vancouver-based consulting company with 99 percent of its clientele in the mining sector.

He left there to join one of its client companies, Sutton Resources, in 1996.

A few years later, Sutton was sold to Barrick Gold and although he first declined a chance to relocate with the company to Ontario, he later reconnected with it, moved his family to Oakville, Ont., and remained with Barrick for the next 16 years, ultimately becoming president.

“(I liked) the way the company operated as a meritocracy — there was little attention given to hierarchy but heavy emphasis placed on getting things done,” says Dushnisky. “And it provided me experiences and opportunities at a relatively junior stage in my career that I would not have been trusted with in most companies of that scale.”

Dushnisky saw an opportunity to broaden his horizons further with AngloGold Ashanti.

“I do not regret one day that I was at Barrick — the experience was exceptional and I do not believe I could have gained it anywhere else — but at the same time, I knew that I was at a point in my career where there would not be many opportunities to help shape the future of a company that was of a similar scale.

“When I joined AngloGold Ashanti in September 2018, we were the third largest gold producer in the world, but 14th in market capitalization. That alone told me that there must be opportunity to unlock value. And since joining, that expectation has been more than confirmed.”

Dushnisky feels he has been fortunate in his career and that it has given him and his family a chance to travel and do things that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do.

Last spring, he took his son along on a visit to a mine the company operates in South Africa, which is nearly four kilometres underground, the deepest accessible point on earth.

“That was a unique experience,” he says of his son’s opportunity. “And I am working to persuade my wife and daughter to experience it next.”

Dushnisky has travelled throughout the world during his career, and says he is grateful and humble for how his life has unfolded.

“There aren’t many places left that I haven’t been to that I would like to see — half of which I couldn’t have found in an atlas when I was growing up — and for that I am grateful.

“The range of travel experiences has been a little extreme at times. To give you a sense of what I mean, I recall traveling down a jungle river once in what was then Borneo, and being warned about local tribes of cannibals. More recently, my wife and I were privileged to have dinner at Buckingham Palace. That is a very odd contrast in dining experiences.”

But even as his world broadens though experiences and connections few others will ever share, he still makes references to his home province whenever he can.

“Manitoba has great geology, reliable and transparent institutions, adherence to the rule of law, supportive First Nations and local communities, enabling regulatory policies and a government that is keen to attract investment in the sector.

“I try to be an unofficial goodwill ambassador for the province when speaking with peer companies and governments wherever I go.”

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