Attendees of The Northern Miner’s Progressive Mine Forum held at the MaRS Discovery District in downtown Toronto in mid-October had the opportunity to hear the views of three sharp-minded keynote speakers on the topic of innovation.
After accepting his commemorative Welsh mining lamp as The Northern Miner’s Mining Person of the Year for 2017, Sean Boyd, vice-chairman and CEO of Agnico Eagle Mines, sat down with Northern Miner publisher Anthony Vaccaro to discuss Agnico’s tremendous growth trajectory over the past two decades, and the company’s “culture of the heart” that has guided it since its founding.
“The culture we have, we look at it as a tremendous competitive advantage [and] it results in people coming to work every day looking to make a contribution,” Boyd said. “There’s an important tie-in to innovation: if you want innovation to work, it’s only going to work or it’s going to work best at companies that actually have a sound, solid business, and have a workforce that is coming to work every day willing to make that contribution.”
He said Agnico tries to have a hands-on approach to development and think long-term.
“When we attract employees, they get that sense right away that we take our lead from the technical people, and we allocate capital consistently over time.
“There are many resource companies out there that will spend based on the gold price, and a pattern like that,” Boyd said. “Agnico invests steadily over time, and that’s how you keep good people, and keep them committed and energized, and bringing good ideas forward, and making a difference.”
Rick Howes, president and CEO of Dundee Precious Metals and a leader in operational innovation, said in his keynote address that after 38 years in the business, he believes “we are in a pretty exciting time and we could radically change the way that we do things, and it’s probably ambition that will drive that more than anything else … because the opportunities are tremendous.”
He said Dundee has taken a stance that “it should at least push the envelope as a company on that ambition.”
Howes noted that a survey of mining companies showed that only a quarter of them understood what “digital transformation” really is, and what drives it.
He said digital transformation is about “how we create and manage value, and if that stays the focus, then we’ve really got something. If it stays on a technology focus, I think you’re not likely to get there.”
Howes advised that “you have to decide what is a mining company, really, in the end and in the future? I don’t think it’s going to look like the mining companies of today.”
George Hemingway, partner and head of innovation practice at the Stratalis Group in New York City, gave a passionate warning about the dangers of complacency in the mining industry in the face of accelerating change, and the need for miners to have strategies for fostering innovation.
Hemingway noted that while every generation has faced uncertainty, “there is something different about the uncertainty we’re facing today. The world is changing at a pace it hasn’t before in the past, and we’re having a hard time dealing with it.”
He said companies that react well to uncertainty do three things: they “face the future head-on, in terms of trends and behaviours,” and what they mean for their businesses; they consider the “showstoppers” that can completely block the attaining of a goal; and they are “prepared to pivot” whenever they are wrong in predicting the future — which is inevitable.
“You’ve got to be as flexible as the future is uncertain,” Hemingway said. “Human beings suck at dealing with the future because — here’s the thing — we like certainty. Whenever we predict the future we’re usually 100% right or 100% wrong. And everything in the middle is uncertainty.”