At the most recent Mining Legends Speaker Series event at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, industry veteran Bob Quartermain, recently inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, walked the audience through the milestones of a life’s work well worthy of the honour.
Organized by The Northern Miner, the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame and Young Mining Professionals, the Mining Legends Speaker Series pairs CMHF inductees with accomplished young talent (in this case, Andree St-Germain, CFO of Integra Resources) and gives the audience a chance to ask questions to bridge the knowledge gap in the industry — with eyes on the future of mining.
Quartermain was a founder and chairman of Pretium Resources, whose famed Brucejack, one of the highest grade gold mines in the world, was acquired in a $3.5-billion deal by Newcrest Mining (TSX: NCM; ASX: NCM) last year.
That trajectory originally began when Quartermain was a field geologist at Teck and made key resource discoveries at the Hemlo mine in Ontario.
“We could start to assay with our eyes,” he remembered. “I could look at a piece of drill core and tell you ‘that’s gonna run 10 grams or that’ll run 20 grams.’”
By visual indications alone, Quartermain thought the deposit hosted at least 2 million oz. gold. The mine has now produced more than 21 million ounces.
He went on to set up Silver Standard Resources for Teck, a company that evolved from a $2 million market cap startup into Pretium Resources, a company valued at over $2.5 billion.
Speaking eloquently and openly about coming out publicly as a gay man only this year, after a career spanning over 40 years, Quartermain said it was “a challenging commentary when you’ve actually spent much of your life in the closet.”
His perspective was that the mining industry wasn’t the most comfortable place to come out as a gay man. He noted that in a world whose borders he traversed regularly as a field geologist for Teck Resources in the 1980s, being gay was a crime in many countries. Even in Canada, employees could still be fired for being gay.
It was only in 1992 that the Canadian Armed Forces officially allowed members of the LGBTQ community to serve (Quartermain was a young Royal Canadian Air Force cadet, and was appointed an honourary colonel for his support of the Canadian Armed Forces throughout his career). And it wasn’t until 2019 that the World Health Organization determined that sexual diversity is not a mental health disorder.
On Indigenous engagement
Quartermain also spoke at length about Indigenous engagement — which continues to be an area that many mining companies struggle with. He recalled that when Pretium was negotiating an engagement agreement with the Gitksan and Nisga’a Nations for exploration at Brucejack, he learned a bit of their language while talking with the guests and watershed chiefs.
“[There was] just enough, it was online… that’s one of the challenges about education, we don’t learn about the things that are important,” he said.
“If you end up in a small community in northern Peru, where you want to engage with the local community to get the rights to drill in their property, that needs engagement and conversation.”
Quartermain said during negotiations in the field, everything rode on a handshake.
“That was how it had to be done, when you were doing things in the bush. And that’s what I tried to take and do throughout my career, whether we’re working in Latin America, or Africa, to make sure that what we said would be good and be true to our word in those regards,” he said. “So those were good things to learn in my career and those values and principles have helped me throughout.”
On equity and diversity
Quartermain stressed that when dealing with a labour force, regardless of whether it’s a worker at the mine face or in the office, it’s all about respect.
“I think equity and respect across all of your platforms is a key thing that you have to do. And it’s certainly something that I’ve done in my career — as you’re respectful to your workers, and then when you go out into other communities,” he said.
“I think one of the challenges with the industry is we work where the mines are located. There’s going to have to be a better distribution of that wealth,” he said, adding that local communities need to receive more of the profits that companies make.
Quartermain also noted that the industry needs to continue its efforts in equity and diversity to attract more talent. “It’s the pressure in any organization, whether it’s our military or whether it’s in ours where we have to be able to open up our organization and find those places where we can get better equality… and that has to come through education and conversation but it needs to be respectful, and I think that’s the key thing.”
On the biggest lessons learned as a CEO
As a leader, Quartermain said some of the most important things he learned are to seek out facts over opinion, to look at and understand details, and to be able to delegate and trust.
Developing trusting relations with the First Nations while exploring and developing Brucejack, for example, resulted in “an ultimate good outcome for everyone,” he said.
“But as part of that, we were focusing on data and complicated quality data. And there were some other individuals who had opinions about the data, which were ultimately proven to be wrong in court,” he added, referring to doubts that consultant Strathcona Mineral Services raised about Brucejack’s economic viability. (Two recent court rulings have backed Pretium’s decision not to disclose those doubts because the company believed the consultant to be wrong.)
On the mining industry as a rewarding career
Quartermain said it’s important to be proud of “what we do as an industry,” and pointed to knowledge gaps in society about the source of the raw materials we use every day.
“[To] everyone who has a cell phone here – there’s 30 elements in that cell phone. And that’s what I use every day that someone brings up and pushes back on what I do, because ‘it’s not contributing to the environment.’ It very much is contributing to the environment.
“It’s all the computers that are driven by the gold contacts, it’s inert, it’s not going to corrode. That’s what’s powering the world. And that’s what’s powering our communication. People have to understand it’s necessary, we just have to do it in a good way and keep people informed.”