June/July 2012

Mine rescuer

Julie Lassonde | President and CEO, Shear Diamonds Ltd.

By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco

When Julie Lassonde speaks of her career, and of the challenges, successes and opportunities her company faces in resurrecting the once-defunct Jericho Diamond mine in Nunavut, as well as in mining in general, she exudes the qualities and mindset of a leader. “My mom, a nuclear engineer, was the first woman president of the Professional Engineers of Ontario,” says Lassonde. “As I was growing up, I saw her mentor many women engineers. I have the same passion for engineering as she does, and now I’m in a position where I can mentor young women in mining. It’s so gratifying to have these young women blossom and feel comfortable in a world that is allegedly an old boys’ network.”

As a leader, Lassonde is also passionate about mining. Some would say it is in her blood, given that her father is the legendary Pierre Lassonde, one of Canada’s foremost experts in mining, co-founder of Franco-Nevada Mining Corporation and former president of Newmont Mining Corporation – the world’s largest gold producer. Her early exposure to mining did in fact draw her to the industry. “I love it. I think an open pit mine is a beautiful thing,” she says. But it was a summer job working for Newmont at its Goldstrike mine in Elko, Nevada as a student that convinced her mining would be her future. “It was probably the best education I could have received,” she says, pointing out that her Newmont experience was in the early 1990s, long before her father had any involvement with the company. “So ironically, I worked for Newmont before my dad,” she says. “The things I learned there! It was amazing. I still apply those lessons at my own site.”

After graduating, she worked in investment banking, which she says was an excellent foundation because it taught her structure and the importance of paying attention to every detail, no matter how minute. “I’m grateful for that, but I thought, ‘Okay, there’s only so much I can take of this.’ So then I did a lot of work in the junior mining sector. It’s one of the hardest sectors to be in because of the risk,” notes Lassonde. “But every day brings a whole new set of issues or questions or challenges. It’s always exciting.”

Pam Strand recognized Lassonde’s entrepreneurial spirit and approached her with a proposal many would have considered worthy of raising a skeptical eyebrow: purchasing the Jericho Diamond mine in Nunavut, which had gone from being all the buzz in 2006 to being shut down two years later with the company that owned it, Tahera Diamond Corporation, crumbling into bankruptcy. “Pam knew this was something that had been maligned and improperly mined, and she came to me and said, ‘I’m not sure I can do this on my own, but I’m pretty sure together we can definitely do this,’” Lassonde recalls.

They purchased Jericho for $6 million in 2010. On May 1 of this year, Shear Diamonds announced it had begun processing its recovery reject stockpiles, recovering 3,500 carats from 358 tonnes in only 10 days, in part to demonstrate that a significant number of diamonds had gone unrecovered under Tahera – and to prove that, with improved processes, the mine will be profitable.

Lassonde concludes: “Step by step; we still have to get Jericho up and running. There’s a lot of exploration on many of the claims around Jericho and we know we have some drill-ready targets, which we have to get to at some point – in the near future preferably. But I always love a challenge. I will not deny that.”

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