Despite a year of low commodity prices, budget cuts and tough choices, the mood among attendees at the CIM Convention, hosted this year at the Vancouver Convention Centre from May 1 to 4, was optimistic for the year ahead. CIM welcomed 5,000 industry professionals from 45 countries to learn about current best practices and emerging methods to overcome problems faced by miners worldwide, under the theme of Leading Excellence. The busy schedule included the EXPO trade show, eight technical session streams, a robust social calendar and a forward-looking plenary discussion.
The future of mining
Hundreds of conference-goers attended the convention’s opening Plenary Session on May 2, with more than 100 livestreaming remotely, to hear four industry titans discuss their perspectives on navigating the commodities downturn and the future of mining.
Moderator Colin Joudrie, Teck Resources’ vice-president of business development and general manager of hydrometallurgy, kicked off the session by introducing the four headliners: Hecla Mining president and CEO Phillips S. Baker, Jr.; Silver Wheaton president and CEO Randy Smallwood; Teck president and CEO Don Lindsay; and Arizona Mining president and CEO Jim Gowans. “We have an opportunity to engage and lead ourselves into the future and these are the guys that are going to do it for us,” said Joudrie.
In line with the conference and plenary theme, Joudrie noted five leadership qualities common to all of the panelists that have contributed to their success: their ability to manage diverse teams and organizations, broad and extensive experience with different companies producing diverse commodities, skill for raising and managing capital, their approachability and a strong sense of personal and professional charity.
According to Lindsay, there has been evidence that markets are improving and there is an increasing optimism within the industry. “After a long period of oversupply, I believe low prices have had a significant impact on production and are pushing most markets in the balance and even deficit,” he said. “At the same time, we’re seeing steady demand.” Lindsay said he believes cost discipline, the ability to adapt to a lower-carbon future and sound management of community relations are three factors that will characterize successful companies in the future.
In terms of project financing, Smallwood said he sees streaming agreements as the key to capital for miners, given its flexibility. “I do think this financing model will be a player for the mining industry for many years,” he said.
Hecla’s Baker said he believes the way precious metals companies are valued today is all wrong. Rather than focus on net asset value and discounted cash flow analysis, “we want long-life, low-cost mines that create real value,” he said. In addition, Baker, whose 16-year tenure as Hecla CEO far outstretches the average, said he believes it is important to maintain continuity in management while developing long-term strategies.
For Gowans, innovation is critical to advancing the industry. He has seen mining adopt its share of new technologies over the years, but he said he is concerned that there may be a lack of cohesion among the many innovation-focused organizations in Canada, noting that there are eight such groups in Ontario alone. “The question is,” he said, “is that allowing us as an industry…to be able to get the concentration of effort?”
The plenary livestream can be viewed at convention.cim.org.
Answers to mining’s most pressing and challenging questions could be found at the convention’s technical sessions, which brought out close to 1,000 delegates. The sessions were organized into eight streams touching on topics from exploration to geology to automation: Excellence in Operations, Standards of Excellence, Rock Mechanics, Geology and Exploration, The Mining Footprint, Sustainable Organizations, Innovations and New Ideas, and Management and Finance Day.
The latter, an annual conference favourite where the session rooms were often standing room only, drew conference-goers interested in learning about short-term access to capital, ways to create stronger feasibility studies investors can trust and rely on, and how companies can better connect their environmental, social and community work with engineering studies.
Plan to be at the 2017 CIM Convention in Montreal from April 30 to May 3 to discuss a “New state of mine”!