The winners of this year’s Young Mining Professionals (YMP) awards are Shelby Yee of privately held RockMass Technologies and Alex Dorsch of Chalice Mining (ASX: CHN; US-OTC: CGMLF).
The YMP awards, presented in association with The Northern Miner, recognize two mining professionals under forty who have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and innovative thinking and provided value to their companies and shareholders.
The awards are named after two iconic entrepreneurs in the mining industry, Eira Thomas and the late Peter Munk. Shelby Yee has won the 2022 Eira Thomas award and Alex Dorsch the Peter Munk award.
This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the awards ceremony has been moved to Sunday, June 12, and will be an outdoor event at Jump restaurant in downtown Toronto. Since last year’s awards were presented online, the organizers invited Maggie Layman and Matthew Fenton, that year’s winners.
The sponsors of this year’s event are Barrick Gold (TSX: ABX; NYSE: GOLD), KPMG, Cassels Brock & Blackwell, and The Northern Miner.
Each of the winners were nominated in a public submissions process. They were then discussed and selected by a panel of YMP chapters, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Perth, Australia, London, U.K., and an equal vote from The Northern Miner.
Stephen Stewart, chairman of YMP and CEO of Orefinders Resources (TSXV: ORX) and QC Copper & Gold (TSXV: QCCU; US-OTC: OTCQB), notes that this is the first time an Australian has won the award.
“Alex was a runaway choice for the Peter Munk award, and there was no doubt that he would receive my nomination,” he said in an interview. “I’ve been following Chalice closely, and their Julimar project in Western Australia is exactly the kind of project that keeps our industry alive. Alex and his team have done a tremendous job creating a multi-billion dollar company, and it is probably the biggest success story of the year.”
Competition for the Eira Thomas award was very close this year, says Stewart, but adds that Yee was a clear choice for the award. “Shelby went out on a limb and took a risk creating her own company. But she’s really moved the needle in developing an innovative technology to drive the industry forward and fully deserved to win the award.”
Shelby Yee is the CEO and co-founder of RockMass Technologies, a Toronto-headquartered mining and geosciences technology start-up.
Born in Winnipeg, Man., and now based in Vancouver, Yee has also lived in Vermont, Toronto, Calgary, Shenzhen in China, and Singapore. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geological engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“When I was eleven years old, my family moved to Vermont, where I fell in love with the outdoors,” she said in an interview. “I also grew up going to camps in Ontario, where we’d spend the summer doing lots of canoeing.”
These skills came in handy when, in the summer of 2013, Yee and a group of friends set off from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and canoed 1,400 km to Baker Lake in Nunavut. “It’s probably one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever done, and it was very mentally and physically gruelling,” Yee recalls. “Some days we would paddle up to 80 km, while other days we’d only cover a few hundred metres because of the wind.”
She says that memories of that experience often return to her when she’s facing challenges in life or her job: “I think actually this isn’t hard compared to that trip, and so it allows me to take on the challenge and get through it. It was a great benchmark in my life.”
Yee says that as well as the outdoors, she loved math and science growing up, “so when it came time to go university, it was an obvious choice to combine these and study geological engineering.”
While pursuing her degree, Yee spent five months studying civil engineering at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore as part of an academic exchange program. “This was the first time I had left the continent, and it was such an eye-opener to experience a completely different culture. It was a great experience and one of the most distinct places I have lived in.”
Another highlight during her studies, she adds, was when Yee helped coordinate the transportation of over 3,000 daily spectators for the 2015 Pan American Games, held in Toronto.
“I’ve always been a big planner, and this allowed me to gain experience on the operational side of things, where I managed a team of about 80 people,” she says. “I loved being involved in such a dynamic situation where you have to solve problems on the spot and manage the expectation of many different stakeholders. It helped in preparing me for my role with RockMass.”
Yee’s studies largely focused on rock mechanics and geotechnical engineering, which involved a lot of design and modelling work, she said. “While working as a geological fields methods teaching assistant, I had gained invaluable experience with field mapping, which has many similarities to that in the mining industry.”
This experience, she adds, exposed her to the difficulties inherent in accurately mapping underground mining environments and drove her to engage more with the mining industry.
Throughout her studies, Yee worked in the oil and gas, transportation, and energy industries. However, she realized that she wanted to do something “more fast-paced and dynamic that had more of a grey area.”
“It never actually crossed my mind to go into entrepreneurship — it wasn’t something my parents or anyone in my family had done,” she explains. “But I had a couple of friends who had started businesses. I saw what they were doing, and I thought, ‘OK, I think I could do many of the things they are doing.’”
During this time, Yee had visited an underground mine and found the experience fascinating. “It was so complex and intricate, and was the perfect storm that set me on my future career path.”
Towards the end of her studies, Yee met a software engineer and a mining engineer working on automating geotechnical mapping. “One was working on his PhD, and the other was heading up the off-road robotics lab at the university. It was then that the opportunity arose to commercialize what began as a PhD thesis and bring it into the mining industry.”
After graduating with first-class honours in 2016, Yee co-founded RockMass with fellow Queen’s University alumni Matthew Gubasta, now its president, and Stuart Bourne, its chief technical officer.
According to Yee, RockMass uses cutting-edge technologies such as computer vision and robotics to create safe and more efficient mining operations. “By automating the collection and processing of geotechnical data, we can provide actionable data to miners at the point of measurement, which can significantly improve operational efficiencies and production optimization, and lead to safer mining environments.”
Its flagship platform, Axis Mapper, is the first handheld tool able to digitally measure geotechnical data, such as structural orientation, underground within seconds, says Yee. “The Tool calculates dip and dip direction and can combine that information with other data, such as rock mass rating, stereonets, and colour images, and integrates these data with a mining company’s existing database.”
In 2018, the company collaborated with Nexa Resources (TSX: NEXA; NYSE: NEXA), a major zinc producer, to field-test a prototype of the tool at one of Nexa’s working mines.
RockMass worked with Nexa to advance Axis Mapper by improving its ease of use and integrating workflow functionalities used by Nexa’s geotechnical teams.
“We’re now working with miners to streamline and improve the data collection process and are currently working with clients that operate across eight continents,” Yee says.
In addition to winning this year’s YMP award, both she and Gubasta were selected as one of Forbes 30 Under 30 in the manufacturing and industry 2021.
Alex Dorsch is managing director and CEO of Chalice Mining, an Australian-based explorer and developer.
The company is focused on advancing its flagship 100%-owned Julimar nickel-copper-platinum group elements (PGE) project, a 26-km-long, major greenfield discovery in an almost entirely unexplored region of Western Australia, about 70 km northeast of Perth.
Dorsch also sits on the board of Falcon Metals (ASX: FAL), a gold exploration company established in 2021 as a demerger of Chalice’s Australian gold assets, comprising the Pyramid Hill, Mt Jackson, and Viking projects.
Born and raised in Adelaide in South Australia, Dorsch pursued a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor of Finance at the University of Adelaide.
“I originally thought about going into the aerospace industry, with dreams of exploring space,” he says. “I then got a bit more realistic and decided to do a mechanical engineering degree and a finance degree, which provided me with a solid technical background as well as knowledge of the commercial side of things.”
Dorsch says that studying engineering allowed him to develop strong problem-solving skills and the ability to “break down complex problems into lots of smaller problems, which can be more easily solved, and gets you to a solution for the bigger problem.”
The project management side, however, appealed to him more than the technical side of engineering. “I was never a nuts-and-bolts person but preferred to look at the bigger problem.”
While pursuing his studies, he spent a year as an undergraduate engineer for BHP (NYSE: BHP; LSE: BHP; ASX: BHP) working on the Olympic Dam project in South Australia, about 560 km north of Adelaide. The project is believed to host the world’s largest uranium resource and the fourth-largest copper resource.
“I enjoyed the experience of working with BHP, especially on such a major project, and it was a great introduction to the mining industry,” Dorsch says.
He also gained valuable experience working as a financial analyst for Adelaide Equity Partners. “This gave me a taste for what small-cap juniors have to go through when raising money and promoting their projects.”
After graduating, Dorsch landed his first job with Santos Ltd. in Perth, in 2010, working as a drilling engineer. “My job focused on the exploration side for both the onshore and offshore parts of Santos and I was fortunate to have been involved in several fantastic offshore oil and gas discoveries.”
In 2013, he took up a position with the Italian energy company Eni, a formerly state-owned oil and gas company in Perth, where he worked on several offshore oil and gas projects.
It was this experience, Dorsch says, that gave him a “strong sense of the value creation side of the industry, and then knew that I wanted to focus on exploration.”
He was then head-hunted by McKinsey & Co., joining the company’s Perth operations as a management consultant in 2016.
“I got to fly around the planet and work with a diverse range of clients in the oil and gas sector and had exposure to topics such as decarbonization and future mobility,” Dorsch says.
While at McKinsey, Dorsch says he was able to further develop his communication skills. “The importance of good communication was drummed into me there — after all, there’s not much point in being good at something if you can’t communicate it.”
Although he says it was a rewarding experience working at McKinsey, “I didn’t get the satisfaction that I was making a difference. I wanted to be on the owner’s side… to own and develop something that goes well and generates value.”
Then, in 2017, a mutual acquaintance introduced him to Tim Goyder, the founder of Chalice. The pair had coffee together in Perth. “Tim and I immediately hit it off and were very much aligned in our thinking. Tim was looking to build a team and initially offered me a corporate development role with the company. I jumped at the opportunity.”
Goyder, who retired last November, founded Chalice in 2006 and oversaw the company’s transition from exploring for gold in Australia and North Africa to its recent discovery at Julimar.
According to Dorsch, Goyder was looking for a CEO to hand the company over to and says he was “fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.”
In November 2017, Dorsch joined Chalice as general manager of corporate development and was appointed chief executive officer of the company five months later, in March 2018.
“I spent the first two years exploring for gold and nickel,” he says. “I came out of McKinsey with a firm conviction for nickel, particularly nickel sulphide. Fortunately, Tim had assembled a fantastic team of geologists with experience in nickel sulphides, so we branched out from gold to the metals that are supporting the growth in electric vehicles.”
While Chalice tried and failed to acquire a nickel asset in North America, the company staked an area around 1.5 hour’s drive from Perth in early 2018 as part of its global search for high-potential nickel sulphide exploration projects. This led to the discovery of high-grade nickel, copper, and PGEs at Julimar in March 2020, almost two years from the day that Dorsch was appointed CEO.
“Julimar is one of Australia’s most significant new discoveries in the past decade,” Dorsch says. “With the discovery, we’ve opened up an entirely new mineral system, and it represents a great opportunity to deliver the green metals needed for a low-carbon future.”
In addition to winning this year’s YMP award, Dorsch was recognized as ‘New/Emerging Leader of the Year’ by MiningNews and ‘CEO of the Year’ by Kitco in 2020.
Tickets to this year’s YMP Awards ceremony are now available.