Wellman scales new heights in dynamic quest for success
Growing up on a 20-acre property in Brisbane meant self-confessed “tomboy” Karen Wellman spent most of her youth exploring the great outdoors. In fact, she could have been the next Indiana Jones.
From riding horses and motorbikes to bushwalking and scaling mountains, it all served as an important foundation for her eventual career as a hard-nosed resource geologist.
Wellman has run the ruler over some of the best-known gold mines developed in Western Australia over the past two decades. Think St Ives, Andy Well, Deflector, among others.
Unsurprisingly though, it wasn’t her chosen career path after graduating from high school.
“I actually wanted to be an archaeologist,” Wellman told Stockhead.
“I did a lot of science subjects through high school, as well as ancient history, but when it came to choosing a university course, I thought archaeology was probably a bit narrow of a field, so I started off doing a double degree in science and arts, majoring in geology… and the rest is history.”
Before completing her tertiary qualifications, Wellman was offered a one-year internship to move to WA and work as a geologist at St Ives, which at the time had just been picked up by Johannesburg-based miner Gold Fields.
“I leapt at the opportunity because I’d never been on a mine site and going to university in Queensland, you focus a lot on coal,” she said.
“Once I started working, I loved it, couldn’t believe we were getting paid to do this. Gold Fields then offered to keep me on while I finished university part-time, and I’ve stayed in WA ever since.”
Wellman quickly felt right at home at St Ives, and it certainly helped she wasn’t the only woman on site.
Things could not have been more different at her next place of employment, however.
“There were no women at all,” Wellman recalled. “There wasn’t even a women’s changeroom, it was clearly put in the plan that it was a cleaning closet, so the first thing I had to do was rectify that situation.”
When Wellman first entered the industry, the stigma that women “didn’t belong” underground remained large, and on more than one occasion she was not so subtly told she was bringing “bad luck” to the site.
Although somewhat disheartened, Wellman knew the only way she could earn the same respect shown to her male colleagues was through sheer hard work.
“I just kept being myself, I’ve never been afraid of hard work, I wasn’t afraid of getting stuck in,” she said.
Wellman is thankful times have changed and the broader resources industry has embraced more diversity in the workplace.
“When I started, work was very intense and there wasn’t a lot of opportunities for conversations to change your situation or your circumstances if things were challenging or you didn’t feel welcome,” she says.
“Back then, if you wanted to stay in the industry, it was a ‘suck it up princess’ mentality, whereas now I think we have a lot of conversations around mental health, harassment and these kinds of things. It’s been a very positive shift for the future.
“There’s a lot more flexibility in the workplace now which is encouraging more women into mining and to stay around the industry. And it’s great to see that flexibility getting applied to men as well, because men should be able to go pick up the children.”
Resource estimation is not for the faint-hearted but Wellman credits years of having people looking over her shoulder and challenging the decisions she made for setting her on a course to one day becoming a CEO.
Wellman got her first taste of life in the C-Suite almost a decade ago as resources development manager for Doray Minerals prior to its merger with Silver Lake Resources (ASX: SLR). A few years later, she took the reins at Jindalee Resources (ASX: JRL) – her first CEO role – and earlier this year oversaw the successful IPO of critical minerals explorer Dynamic Metals (ASX: DYM) where she now serves as the company’s founding managing director.
“I’ve got three children already, Dynamic is like my fourth child,” Wellman laughs.
“We raised the funds in December last year at a time where the market was difficult, but we still managed to raise $7 million and get the IPO off the ground.
“This year has been very satisfying to see all the targets that we’ve generated get drill tested, get the results and then coming up with more programs. I think for everyone in exploration, the best part of the job is drilling and seeing the results. It’s been very fulfilling to see that through.”
As for what she considers to be the defining moment of her career to date, Wellman often finds herself reflecting on a broker event she was invited to barely a month after starting as CEO of Jindalee in late 2020.
“Because of my previous roles, I hadn’t really had a lot of interaction with brokers because my background was being the technical person, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” she said.
“I turned up to the event on my own but very quickly I felt at ease because I knew a lot of the other managing directors and CEOs in the room, so I think that was definitely a moment where I was like, ‘oh, I actually do belong here, these are my peers’.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was still a room full of blokes, but I still felt at ease because I knew everyone from my pathway. And even more recently, in the last 12 months, at various times people I hold in great respect in the mining industry have sent me an email or seen me at a conference and given me a pat on the back and telling me I’m doing a great job.
“There’s been few ‘oh, that person knows who I am’ kind of moments that certainly make you feel like you belong.”
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At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While Dynamic Metals is a Stockhead advertiser, they did not sponsor this article.