Mining a new field of knowledge at Birmingham led Ioannis (Yannis) Tsitos into a career taking in 32 countries, one miraculous moment, and the search for gold.
Although his career in the mining industry spans almost three decades, it is an event from his days as a young geophysicist that still marks Ioannis Tsitos’s proudest moment.
Working in Africa, he was sent to a small village whose inhabitants had to walk eight miles to get dirty water to drink. Then the team found a source of clean water underground. Ioannis remembers: ‘We put a pump down and fresh water just came pouring out. The children were jumping and playing in it – their joy was incredible and it’s never left me.’
Ioannis (MSc Geological Sciences, 1986) now lives in Vancouver, Canada and is the President and CEO of Eagle Mountain Gold Corp., a Canadian gold exploration company focused in Guyana, but his passion for all things scientific didn’t always go to plan.
Born and raised in Athens, he nearly set the family home on fire aged eight when one of his many chemical experiments went awry. But, enthusiasm still aflame, he went on to complete an undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Athens before heading to Birmingham for a Masters in Applied Geophysics.
‘The transition was tough in the beginning, especially with the language barrier, but everyone was so welcoming I settled in quickly,’ he says. ‘I also had no clue about geology as I came from a physics background so I asked my professors for help and, in parallel with the Masters and English language training, I did modules of an undergraduate geology degree.
I would study up to 2.00am, as my father was paying half his pension for me to be there so I had to focus. It had its challenges, but it was a great experience and without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’
Ioannis also has fond memories of the Lapworth, one of the oldest specialist geological museums in the UK sited in the Aston Webb Building. ‘I remember finding amazing maps, fossils, minerals and models – it was incredibly diverse. Having that in the place you were studying was fantastic and really unique.’
After his Masters and two years’ national service in the Greek navy, Ioannis joined the University of Athens as an assistant lecturer but knew he wanted to apply his industry knowledge. He took a job with mining giant BHP Billiton in South Africa, where he moved with his wife Ioanna; and went on to stay with the company for 19 years, working around the world.
Now, his focus is on Eagle Mountain’s current explorations in Guyana, a country of around 750,000 people on the northern coast of South America. Although the company has no extraction operations yet, great care is still needed to manage ethical considerations and the effects on the local environment and community.
‘My first priority is social and environmental issues, so we work closely with the Guyanese government. If a tree has stood for 150 years, I don’t want to cut it down, so we have been working in partnership with our local teams to avoid that happening.
‘As a big company, we rightly have to give an account of ourselves and report back about our activities. We are accountable for good methods of exploration, like state-of-the-art technology that isolates harmful chemicals and removes them from the environment. That is part of our investment and the buck for that stops on my desk.’
The father-of-two hopes the company will reach extraction of gold in the next ten to 12 months, and it is obvious that exploration still brings him a buzz of excitement. He believes his time at Birmingham developed his exploratory nature and gave him the understanding to apply his ideas.
‘If I had to write a book of my life, one chapter would have to be about university because it is so important. In Guyana, we are helping bright children who would not otherwise have access to higher education. I want to give them what I have had.’