How did you get started in the mineral exploration industry?
I graduated from McMaster University in 1986 with a degree in geology with the intention to enter the oil and gas industry as a petroleum geologist. Unfortunately for me, the oil and gas industry suffered a severe downturn just as I graduated so I was forced to change my focus to hard rock. At that time the mineral exploration industry was still going strong following the gold discoveries at Hemlo. Even so it was still very difficult to get my first job but I did, eventually, starting out with a small junior exploration company doing work in Rankin Inlet, NWT.
What are some of the positions you’ve held over the years?
I’ve been a junior geologist, project geologist, senior geologist, operations manager, director of a couple public companies and most recently, since 2003, President and co-owner of ACA Howe International Limited, a Toronto and UK-based geological and mining consulting firm. I’ve learned something from each of the positions I’ve held and I haven’t stopped learning. This is an industry where you can learn as much as you want to learn and you can be as successful as you want to be with the right attitude and determination.
To what do you credit your career advancement?
In a word, perseverance. Especially in the beginning, and a strong work ethic that will see you through the rest of your career. I can’t stress enough the importance of being professional, in all things and all places, even when you think no one is paying you any attention. Apply a professional approach to every task and every job that you undertake. Tied into professionalism is respect; treat every person that you interact with as someone you can learn from and treat every experience as a learning experience. From drillers to miners, everyone has something you can learn from. People in our industry are usually very willing to share their knowledge and experience, you just need to ask, and they can be a valuable resource.
I’ve found that having a strong network of colleagues and friends, and friends who are colleagues, has been very advantageous to my career, especially in leaner times. Decision-making based on friendships comes into play more often than people think and many of my career decisions have been made based on friendships and the benefits from doing so have far outweighed the risks. There is something to be said for the support, comfort and security that comes with working with people that you know and trust and that have complementary skills. As a group you can be quite strong and it’s easier to take on risk in numbers. For instance, during one downturn, my colleagues- all of them good friends- and I decided to foray into healthcare and the development of one of the first cloud-based healthcare software that was rolled out into many physician’s offices and clinics across Ontario. The software was later purchased by US-based HMO but it was all financed by mining industry people. When you’ve been in the business long enough it helps to know people and have them know you – this can see you through tough times and help you move your career forward.
Given the cyclical nature of the industry you must have faced a downturn – how did you weather your way through it and what advice would you give to young geologists and recent graduates that are facing the current slump?
Our industry is cyclical in nature and it is inevitable that you will face a downturn at some point in your career. Every downturn is difficult to weather and the only thing that one can really do is to hang tough and persevere. It helps to consider work that uses geology but may not be directly related to mineral exploration or mining. For instance, during a downturn a close colleague of mine got a job in the geo-environmental side decommissioning old gas stations, work which required him to carry out or supervise soil sampling and drilling programs. This experience taught him management and reporting skills. He was still able to use his knowledge and skills but applied it in a different circumstance and took new skills away from that experience. Again, treating every experience as a learning experience and will add value and knowledge that you can bring back to the industry on the next upswing. Additionally one should always remember that even in the midst of a downturn there is always something happening somewhere in our industry; that our industry never completely stops and that it may be worthwhile to consider moving to a northern community to look for work. If you are in the right place at the right time you can get the opportunity.