June/July 2006

Mining can take you places

By C. Chen

The Grand Canyon in Arizona was one of Lewis' favourite spots to hike.

The mining business has always primarily existed on the frontier, outside the edges of big cities. Not only does mining draw people to remote parts of the country, the mine operator, engineer, geologist, and professional will often be sent around the world. It provides a challenging and rewarding experience, and the opportunity to see the world and experience new cultures.

Michael Lewis, ex-pat Canadian and general manager for Modular Mining Systems in Brazil, is currently living in Recife, Brazil, having worked in Canada and the U.S. He has been enjoying the experiences of his global career and wouldn’t have chosen any other path, but he warns it can pose challenges.

“I don’t think foreign assignments are right for everyone,” warned Lewis. “A lot of people have perfectly reasonable difficulties leaving their families or integrating into a different culture. It can be very rewarding but it’s not always an easy road— it’s not the easiest way to live your life or to follow your career.”

Lewis graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, with a degree in mechanical engineering and a Master’s in mining. His career has seen him uprooted and transplanted a couple of times already.

“As someone who is actively involved in recruiting, I wish there were more candidates to choose from with practical mining and maintenance experience,” Lewis lamented. With the heightened mining activity today and the HR challenges, it has become increasingly difficult to find people willing to work in remote job sites. “I think a diversity of experience is really important, specifically, the experience you can get from working in varied positions and departments both with mining and mining support companies. This varied experience can set you up to be a valuable asset to employers.”

After having finished his studies, Lewis worked for Inco Mines Research in Sudbury, which sponsored his Master’s degree. After that, he took time off to travel through eastern Africa. Barrick Goldstrike recruited him and Lewis, age 25 at the time, found himself in Elko, Nevada. In 1999, Lewis joined Modular Mining Systems in Tucson, Arizona, and held a variety of positions within the Mine Services group, most recently as manager of mine services.

“I have split my career between working in mining engineering and maintenance activities,” explained Lewis. “I feel that I have had a very interesting career with diverse work assignments and being able to divide my time between two of the most important aspects of mining.”

His well-rounded and varied experience helped prepare him for his current position at MMSI in Brazil, a position he was promoted to in January this year. “Modular Mining Systems is a wholly owned subsidiary of Komatsu, with a focus on real-time solutions to maximize the value of mine assets. Our revolutionary products such as IntelliMine®, Dispatch®, MineCare®, and ProVision® are used to maximize the value realized from mobile equipment assets at over 150 mines around the world.”

As the general manager, he is involved with every aspect of running the Brazilian office, from day-to-day managing to sales, delivering products or services, and providing support to MMSI’s Brazilian customers.

Recife doesn’t have a large ex-pat community; as a result Lewis spends most days completely immersed in the Brazilian culture, mainly interacting with the 27 local employees, and communicating with mining customers. “About three months before I moved to Brazil I started taking Portuguese language classes, so I had a good base to build from. The challenges of learning a new language while starting a new job and life in a new country are not to be underestimated. However, after about four months here in Brazil, I am starting to feel a lot more comfortable, but still it is a bit of a challenge to keep up in group conversations,” he admitted. “Speaking, reading, and writing in Portuguese at work all day can sometimes be a bit draining – sometimes I wish I could come home at night and take a break from it all and watch some good old Canadian hockey.”

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