Jim O’Rourke was formally inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame this month. The Copper Mountain Mining Corp. CEO was selected under the category of “building a corporation,” which focuses on entrepreneurial and management skill.
O’Rourke has played key roles in opening four B.C. mines, including Copper Mountain, which opened in 2011. Business in Vancouver recently chatted with the nearly five-decade veteran of B.C.’s mining industry about what makes for longevity in the business and what’s ahead for B.C. mining.
Q: You’ve witnessed the fate of many mining projects during your career. What do you see as hallmarks of people who make projects succeed?
A: Number one, you’ve got to be willing to take some of the risk yourself. Number two, you’ve got to recognize the skills [needed] and what can be done and what can’t. And number three, the buck stops somewhere, so somebody has to make a decision and hopefully you’ve got people who make the right decision.
Q: You started your mining career as a mining engineer. Can a person with a business background but no technical chops build a mining career?
A: I think it would be a big gap. I guess if you didn’t have a technical base of some sort but you were able to pick it up [that might work], but I think you need to get involved. Things don’t just happen on your own. I don’t think you have to know everything, but you have to know people that do know, and you have to be able to evaluate [their skills].
Because there’s been such a gap in mining in terms of skilled people and you’ve got a lot of very young people who just don’t have the skills, if you don’t have somebody to watch over that, you can really get in trouble in a hurry.
Q: You’ve been around for nearly five decades in B.C.’s mining industry and seen significant technological changes. What’s stayed the same?
A: I think the challenges are the same. Unlike, say, a chemical plant, in mining, nothing’s homogeneous: everything’s heterogeneous. So everything changes on you and from one project to another, it’s not going to be the same. I think the thing that’s exciting about it is there are just so many disciplines involved.
Q: How do you assess the current mining climate?
A: I think right now is a difficult time for mining or anything. We’re fortunate [at the Copper Mountain mine] that we’re running, but trying to develop a mine now would be tough to get financing – unless it’s super. I think China’s sort of helped out, and I think India also – those two economies are still chugging along, and they’ve got a lot of people who need a lot of metals.
But I think there’s going to be a big gap and what’s going to happen is because of the global economy right now being down so much, everyone’s pessimistic so nothing will develop yet. But one thing that continues to grow is people, so you’re going to have more and more consumers so your metal consumption and everything continues to grow and if somebody doesn’t develop new prices in the meantime then you’re going to hit another wall and things are going to jump up again. I’m always optimistic.
Q: Is optimism an important trait in mining?
A: Definitely. •