Interview with Keith N. Spence, 2022 Distinguished Service Award recipient

In December 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada, celebrating the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities. In recognition of Black History Month 2022, we spoke to Keith about his experiences and contributions as a black person in the exploration and mining industry.

Keith Spence is CEO of Global Mining Capital, which is involved in Private Equity and M&A in the mining industry. He has held positions in investment banking and capital markets, at RBC and BMO. He was CEO of Alliance Pacific Resources, exploring in western China and as a field geologist, he has experience in Canada and internationally. He is Co-Chair of the Canadian Mining Valuation Standards and Guidelines. Learn more about Keith's impact on the mineral exploration and mining industry and his PDAC 2022 Distinguished Service Award here.


photo of Keith Spence

As a country we have been celebrating Black History Month since its inception; but what does it mean to you?

Black History Month celebrates the excellence and achievements of many Black Canadians which in the past, have gone unnoticed. It gives me pride in seeing these role models celebrated!

Mining companies agree that there is both a desire and strong business case to achieve a more diverse and inclusive workforce. When you started your career, the industry must have looked very different than it does today. What challenges have you faced as a black person in mining and how did you overcome them?

I am a bit unique as I am both a mining professional and an investment banker. I straddled two different industries, and can therefore contrast my treatment in the two industries. The first big difference is that the mining industry is more “welcoming”. There is a sense of genuineness in the welcoming. I remember my first exposure to the mining industry was as an undergraduate Geology and Geophysics student, at the annual PDAC convention at the Royal York Hotel. I visited many hotel corporate suites and many company booths and was surprised at the genuine openness and comradery among the attendees (most of them geologists, geophysicists, company executives, miners and promoters). It was then and there, that I decided that I would definitely have a career in this industry. It was also there, at the PDAC convention, that I got my first summer exploration job from one of the attending companies. Later in my career, I became the CEO of a gold and copper exploration company in the Gobi region of western China. This was one of the first foreign exploration companies in China to sign a joint-venture agreement with the Chinese Government.

After my Hons BSc. I attended the Ivey Business School for my MBA, where I specialized in banking finance and corporate finance. I was then recruited by a major Canadian bank in their Investment Banking/Corporate Banking group. I subsequently worked for two additional major Canadian banks in my career. The culture in the high finance banking industry was not as welcoming or as nurturing as the mining sector. The contrast was stark and palpable. Although there were more Black people working in the financial industry than the mining sector, it lacked the genuine welcoming attitude of the mining community.
I overcame the challenges in this sector by focusing on excelling and being the best among my peers. Later in my career I focused on combining two different but co-dependent specialties, Mining Finance and Private Equity Mining. I worked as a Mining Finance banker, and later a Private Equity Mining banker. These mutually dependent experiences enabled me to initiate and co-found the globally recognized Canadian Mining Valuation Standards & Guidelines. Mining Valuation demands both skills, and is a rare combination. 

Keith with Chinese exploration team
Representing Canada (ROM) at Nanjing Museum opening
Western China Exploration Joint venture

There is always room for improvement when it comes to diversity and inclusion and a lot of work has been done in the mineral industry in this area, especially in the last five years. What more can we do to build a workforce that is more inclusive towards people of color?

It starts at a young age! Beginning in primary school, high school and university. Efforts should be made to encourage young Black people to consider a future career in the earth sciences. Also, companies should have strong outreach programs for Black professionals. I note that in addition to Black Canadians, there are individuals in Canada from the Black diaspora (originally from Africa) where several Canadian mining companies operate or explore. Canada has the largest number of mining projects internationally than any other country; so there are opportunities to maximize the inclusion of these Black individuals. Further, they should be given the opportunity to advance into the C-suite executive levels. In this manner, the industry can put its innate nurturing and welcoming skills to work.

What advice do you have for people of color who may be considering a career in mineral exploration and mining?

The mining and minerals industry has enormous opportunities for a fruitful and rewarding career. As the world transforms its energy sources to zero carbon technologies to meet Climate Change targets; more metals and minerals are ABSOLUTELY necessary. Wind Turbines, Solar Panels, Electric Vehicles (EV), EV Charging Stations and the associated technologies are not possible without copper, nickel, lithium, silver, cobalt and rare earth elements. These all have to be extracted from the earth. As such, opportunities abound for various careers such as geologists, metallurgists, financial professionals, geophysicists, engineers, executives, administrative staff, investor relations, environmental scientists, community experts (corporate social responsibility) and lawyers with mining specialties. In addition, there are significant opportunities to travel the world and experience various cultures and natural landscapes. Personally, I have travelled to more than 87 countries or jurisdictions (including extensive travel in China and Asia) throughout my mining and minerals industry career.  “Reach for the stars, and if you don’t reach the stars, you can still reach the moon!”