Smith’s recent appointment as president and CEO of vanadium producer Largo Resources added another specialty metal to an already impressive list. The former head of Molycorp oversaw that rare earth company’s transition from oil subsidiary to public firm. After leaving, he joined niobium developer NioCorp in 2013, which tripled the resource at its Nebraska project thanks to last year’s drilling campaign. His new role at Largo immediately plunged him into raising money for work at the Maracás mine (see this issue's Project Profile, "Strength in Numbers").
These commodities have a couple of things in common, according to Smith, who remains the CEO of NioCorp: they often go to the same buyers, and those buyers need more options. At Molycorp, his pitch was greater diversity in the completely China-sourced rare earths supply. Now he finds himself making similar arguments for niobium – 92 per cent of which comes from Brazil – and majority-Chinese vanadium. “What we continually hear from customers is the steel companies are the ones who need more suppliers,” said Smith.
Furthering investment in new sources of supply is where Smith sees his skill set having an effect. “I look for opportunities at this point in my life where not only can I step into a leadership role, but I can step in as an investor and also take advantage of what I think are outstanding opportunities that are not as well understood by the market as they should be,” he said. “I’ve been able to put things in terms that an investor needs to hear. Once you convince an investor that your values are strong and that the commodity that you’re producing is an important part of the economics of the world, then I really think that you’ve captured them to a large extent. Then you can get into the details of exactly why this particular opportunity would fit their purposes so well.”