November 2010

Canadians Abroad

Technology transfer is a global game: Candente’s Sean Waller learns life lessons working abroad

By Heather Ednie

Candente Copper Canariaco Norte exploration camp

A recent view of the Candente Copper Canariaco Norte exploration camp and proposed minesite in the Andes of Northern Peru — the project that takes up most of Waller’s time these days | Photos courtesy of Sean Waller

Sean Waller, president of Candente Copper, has worked all around the globe. His experiences have taken him from Asia to South America, with stops in Australia and Europe along the way. Although his work currently centres in Peru, where his company’s primary project — Cañariaco — is in the feasibility stage, Waller has spent most of his career as an engineering consultant.

Sean Waller“People don’t really appreciate the technology transfer by Canadians working overseas, especially by the consulting industry,” Waller says of his fellow Canucks. “Canadian companies do a huge amount of consulting overseas — all of it is technology transfer. Also, Canadian engineering firms are highly sought-after internationally,” he adds.

Globe trotter

Originally from Vancouver, where he still resides, Waller’s international experience dates back to 1988, when he began working in Indonesia for Kilborn Engineering (now SNC-Lavalin). Eager to discover the world around him, he was happy to see work assignments abroad quickly come his way. “If you’re going to work in consulting, you’d better be willing to travel,” he explains, having spent much of 1988 to 2000 in Indonesia (even living there for three years in the early 1990s) working at Freeport Indonesia’s Grassberg copper/gold mine.

In Waller’s case, when presented with the opportunity to travel, it never occurred to him to say “no.” “As a young engineer, it’s so rewarding,” he says. “You not only gain technical expertise, you also gain exposure and benefit from learning about other cultures. I found wherever I worked, the host people were very open to us being there. They wanted to learn about Canadian practices and teach us their ways as well.”

The dawning of a new century brought about new travel destinations. In 2000, Waller spent time in Australia for while working with SNC-Lavalin. He followed that up with several engineering and business trips to Africa. Since 2004, he has spent a great deal of time travelling in South America for AMEC and, more recently, for Candente. These days, much of his work is on the business side of the industry and includes time in Europe attending investor meetings.

Embracing diversity

When working in Indonesia throughout the 1990s, Waller learned to speak the local language. “If you want to work overseas, especially if you’re spending a lot of time in one country, learn the language,” he advises. “It’s effective for work and a polite thing to do.” Although he was set to begin taking Spanish lessons two years ago, his plans were delayed until this fall, primarily due to his role as a member of the CIM Council and taking on chairing the CIM Conference and Exhibition 2010. Waller also finds that, when working abroad, it is very rewarding and enjoyable to take the time to get to know the people you are working with outside of work. “It is a terrific way to gain new friends, as well as a real insight into their culture,” he adds.

During his stay in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country, Waller realized how important it is to be aware of the local customs. “I learned it’s considered very rude to point at people,” he recalls. “You do it with your thumb instead, or wave — you must make a conscious effort.”

Although he does not have children himself, Waller has observed that for families, working overseas can be a great experience, especially for those with young children. “Usually there are very good facilities for them,” he says. “As well, they can acquire another language and benefit from being exposed to a different culture. When I was at Freeport in Indonesia, only men could work, but many wives came with their husbands and kids, simply for the experience.”

According to Waller, he has learned more from all of his travelling than he has in any classroom. His experiences have shaped the way he thinks and influenced his outlook on life. “In my early thirties, when I started working overseas for the first time, it taught me we’re all the same, with the same basic values,” he explains. “I’ve never forgotten that, no matter where I am.”

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