June/July 2013

Leading the conversation

At recordbreaking 2013 CIM Convention, miners look for ways out of tough times

By Herb Mathisen

Forbes & Manhattan founder Stan Bharti, in focus, shares his wisdom with an audience of 600 at CIM 2013’s plenary session. He was joined by, from left, Chris Lewicki, Zoë Yujnovich, Egizio Bianchini and, far right, Richard Ross.

Click here to view more pictures of the 2013 CIM Convention.

It has been a tough year for the mining industry so far, but the close to 7,000 professionals who gathered in Canada’s financial centre for the 2013 CIM Convention shared ideas on how to lead the industry out of the current crunch. While the event provided an opportunity for convention-goers to forge partnerships, develop skills and hear new ideas, it also gave mining professionals the chance to take some time out to celebrate all that the industry contributes to Canada and to the rest of the world.

This year’s event broke attendance records, with more than 1,250 delegates coming to the Toronto convention – nearly doubling the previous Toronto event in 2009. In his speech during the SMS Equipment/Komatsu-sponsored opening ceremony, convention co-chair Tom Rannelli asked attendees to step back and reflect on their own stories and how they can support young mining professionals who are just beginning their careers. “That’s what this convention is all about,” he said, before highlighting the strength of the convention’s technical program and the impressive collection of industry expertise represented in the exhibition. “All these exhibitors are bringing their A-game to this convention. The people that are here are second to none.”

Leadership and the courage to change

The convention’s signature event – the plenary session – was held in front of a capacity audience of 600. CBC journalist Mark Kelley moderated the panel discussion that boasted a lineup of influential mining leaders assembled to share their wisdom and experiences in the industry.

Richard Ross, program director for MBA Global Mining Management at the Schulich School of Business, set the tone early by listing the names of CEOs who had lost their jobs in the last year, along with many recent multi-billion-dollar project write-downs. He pointed out three key systemic forces that are behind the problems facing the industry today: the increased influence that grassroots organizations have; the tyranny of short-term thinking from institutional investors; and how management teams are ill-prepared to deal with the growing complexity associated with developing projects. “In my view, I think these three factors have reached a tipping point,” he said. “Unless we acknowledge and understand what’s going on in society, we’re not really going to be able to equip the next generation of leaders with the right skills to take on these challenges, because they’re not going away.”

Egizio Bianchini, capital markets vice-chair and co-head of BMO’s global metals and mining group, said optimism is required more than ever today, while mining also has to work on clearing up its perception issues and show how it benefits communities and society. Iron Ore Company of Canada CEO Zoë Yujnovich, for her part, said the best way to ensure mining has a positive impact on society is to focus on profitable operations. “To be a resilient and sustainable company is what enables us to give back to the communities that we are operating in,” she remarked.

Forbes & Manhattan founder Stan Bharti provided the audience with tips on how to weather the current commodities downturn and Chris Lewicki, president of Planetary Resources, spoke about his company’s challenges to get people to take near-Earth asteroid mining seriously. Bharti, for one, thought it sounded like an enticing investment opportunity, stating: “Forbes & Manhattan will buy some asteroids.” Lewicki fielded the majority of audience questions, as queries also came in from around the world, with the plenary session streamed live online for the first time.

Mining made fun

FedNor Minister Tony Clement gave kudos to Mining 4 Society (M4S) for educating kids about the mining and minerals sectors and for making a positive contribution to the national discussion on mining’s importance. “I want to commend you for doing that and keep doing more of it,” he told the crowd assembled for the plenary session. “There’s so much misinformation and, quite frankly, ideological agendas that are trying to drag down the mining sector in a way that is completely unreasonable.”

The three-day M4S show kicked off the convention schedule on May 2. More than 2,500 students and teachers filed through the Queen Elizabeth Exhibit Hall to learn about the mining industry and the important role minerals play in society. Now in its eighth year, the show included 38 activities, ranging from interactive equipment simulations and demonstrations linking raw materials to everyday products, to the ever-popular gold-panner Yukon Dan, who instructed legions of young and old alike on how to shake, rinse and repeat until only flakes of gold and copper appeared at the bottom of their pans. “I think this show is a great opportunity for students to get interested in geology because not a lot of them know about it,” said Joey Vrzovski, a second-year University of Toronto geology student and M4S staff member. “They seem to be having a lot of fun. I wish I could have had an experience like this when I was their age.” The general public had access to the event on Saturday.

On the floor

Featuring contingents from Quebec, Saskatchewan and Denmark, the sold-out exhibition at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre was filled with 436 mining suppliers, companies and consultancies – represented by 3,500 exhibiting staff – showcasing their goods. “It’s the first time that we’ve come here,” said Heidi Ravn, business sector manager with Danish Mining & Quarry Group. “The reaction has been very positive. We’re very happy to be here and hopefully we’ll be back next time.”

Planetary and Terrestrial Mining Sciences Symposium (PTMSS) exhibitors also showed off space rovers, heat-stress reduction suits and crack-detection lasers tested in space.

Getting technical

The convention included six technical streams, allowing convention-goers to learn about new legal and processing developments, advances on mining in new frontiers, best practices in action, and to glean financial and leadership advice for experts in each respective field. The streams included leadership in investment and management; new frontiers and open innovation; operations and maintenance best practices; rock mechanics and geology advancements; social and environmental responsibility; and PTMSS.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, PTMSS was being held in conjunction with the CIM Convention for the first time to raise the symposium’s profile and also allow for space miners and traditional miners to meet and learn from each other.

“We’re on a first date,” said Dale Boucher, event chair. PTMSS featured a technical stream discussing, amongst other things, the legal and engineering challenges associated with mining in space. Boucher said the fact that many companies have recently come forward with business cases for space mining demonstrates the viability of such endeavours. “The giggle factor certainly is gone,” he said. “Now that it has become an economic activity and people are seriously talking about making money off of space mining, suddenly everything that we’ve been doing for the last 10 or 15 years has a basis in reality.”

Four professional workshops were also offered over the weekend. Roughly 130 attendees participated in sessions focused on mining disclosure standards, tailings management, chromium management, and the basics of mining and mineral processing.

The latest Women in Mining forum touched on female employment gaps in mining, specifically in non-­traditional and senior management roles, along with company strategies for encouraging and increasing diversity and a philosophical and sociological dissection of gender. Factive Pty Ltd.’s senior director Dean Laplonge took issue with current views on gender diversity, stating that people focus too closely on the numbers of women in the workplace. He said reports on women in mining follow the same pattern – repetition, stagnation and failure. Over the last 20 years they have used the same methodology, provided the same recommendations and “still, we don’t have enough women working in mining,” he said. “We need to rethink what we mean by gender.”

On Management and Finance Day, experts explained complex and overlooked issues in mining finance, providing helpful advice to developers who can sometimes be caught unaware of legal and contractual obligations. Organized by CIM’s Management and Economics Society, the event, in its fifth year, featured presentations touching on issues faced by companies developing projects, while examining aspects of project risk analysis and delving into problems companies have keeping to their capital cost estimates.

At the closing luncheon, Pierre Boivin and Brenda Swick of the law firm McCarthy Tétrault shed light on recent legal developments related to corruption of foreign public officials and some of the nuances of doing business across borders to an audience of more than 100.

Something for everybody

This year’s convention featured an impressive international delegation, with more than 60 delegates from West Africa, and also First Nations representatives, who were eager to discuss partnership opportunities.

More than 100 students turned out for the student-industry luncheon, where they could meet with industry profesionals and ask them questions.

New this year were two networking breakfasts: Rachel Stephan, president of Les sens créatifs, led a session on how to use social media tools to engage potential partners and showcase projects to the world; and Tom Rannelli, joined by his son, Thomas, examined the new mentorship relationship where younger workers benefit from the older workers’ wisdom and experience, while the senior worker learns about new technology from the junior worker. Both were very successful.

Party time

Convention-goers had plenty of options to relax and enjoy themselves at the many receptions that make up the convention’s social program. CIM’s annual Awards Gala, sponsored by Caterpillar and its Canadian Dealers and featuring the curmudgeonly comedian Mike Bullard and a performance by the Jersey Kid, recognized the industry’s best and brightest and brought out more than 530 mining professionals. The following evening, Joy Global hosted its annual gala, where party bands Groove Marmalade and The Decades had the dance floor shaking.

CIM’s Annual General Meeting

CIM held its annual general meeting in front of an audience of CIM Members and CIM Branch and Society representatives. “From a financial point of view, we’ve never been in better shape,” said Terence Bowles, CIM’s outgoing president. Membership reached 14,554 this year, representing a 29 per cent increase from two years ago. CIM has continued its global expansion, with branches opening in Dakar, Senegal, and Lima, Peru. Bowles also touted CIM’s $2-million “rainy day” reserve fund, along with its $3.5 million in net available cash. The meeting was also the occasion for Bowles to hand over the reins to new CIM president Robert Schafer, who outlined his priorities to keep growing membership and to increase the engagement between branches and the national office.

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