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Ian Cameron: Cultivating leadership

A winner in the 2017 BC CFO Awards, Methanex Corp. senior vice-president, finance, and CFO promotes professional development
| Chung Chow

Methanex Corp.’s Ian Cameron helped spearhead a novel, $1 billion-plus initiative to ship two methanol plants piece by piece across a hemisphere. However, all people want to talk about is how Cameron moves people down the hall.

Cameron, senior vice-president of finance and CFO for Methanex (TSX:MX; Nasdaq:MEOH), played a leadership role in boosting the company’s lagging production by relocating bricks-and-mortar facilities from southern Chile up to Geismar, Louisiana. He’s also been a longtime steward of a strong and flexible balance sheet that has weathered the cyclical nature typical of a one-commodity company.

But if you listen to feedback from people who work with Methanex, what’s most highlighted is that he’s big on building out the company’s team. Cameron’s finance department has earned the reputation of being a talent incubator for the company. By focusing on the development of his team, Cameron has provided the company with a high-quality pool of future leaders.

Brad Boyd, for one, was hired by Cameron in 1996 and later became director of investor relations, managing director of Methanex’s Egyptian operations and, currently, vice-president of human resources for the company’s entire global staffing. Other members of Cameron’s finance team have gone on to executive roles in operations, logistics, marketing and corporate development.

“One thing that really stands out for him is that he has an amazing focus on developing people,” Boyd said. “The opportunities I’ve received at Methanex were largely thanks to him. He’s really supported and created opportunities for many of the people he’s hired. The finance department has been a real conduit for people to go into different functions of the business.”

Boyd also describes Cameron as a mentor who leads by example.

“He’s incredibly dedicated and very strategic in the way he thinks about things. He’s an amazing critical thinker. He thinks deeply about issues, has very high standards and really kind of brings you along.”

Cameron kiboshes any kudos. His humble ethos is: “I’ve always felt I worked hard and paid my way.” Cameron’s focus on fostering the careers of others is simply his way of paying it forward.

“I’ve been very lucky over my career,” Cameron said. “I’ve had lots of support. I’ve stood on a lot of people’s shoulders. I believe strongly that’s the way the world works – we all stand on other people’s shoulders. So, part of my job is to see my colleagues develop and grow. It’s good for them and it’s good for the company.”

Cameron himself has also embraced opportunities to take on broader roles, including assuming corporate development responsibilities during a very difficult period when the company faced looming production shortfalls.

Methanex is the world’s largest producer and supplier of methanol, a commodity used as a fuel and an ingredient for numerous industrial and consumer items. The company’s flagship operation at one time was its four-plant facility in southern Chile. However, domestic energy demand prompted neighbouring Argentina, the facility’s main source of gas feed, to largely turn off the taps by mid-2007 and convert the country to a net-importer nation.

“It was a great opportunity for me to broaden, but it was tough,” recalled Cameron. “We were at a period where we needed to grow but it was very difficult to do so.”

To make up for lost production and with an eye to expand capacity, Cameron quarterbacked the closing of $550 million in financing in 2007 for a new large plant in Egypt, which offered supply chain flexibility to both Europe and Asia. The plant came on stream in January 2011.

During the same time period, the U.S. shale-gas market started to emerge. Cameron had a memorable meeting with a large international oil and gas company that provided a long-term and very favourable view on cost structure for shale gas. Cameron and Methanex’s executive team sought to be a first mover in the region. They came up with the idea of moving existing plants instead of building new ones. When considering the unique project, Cameron had to look beyond the cost-benefit numbers to the people sitting across the table.

“This is when you have to have respect for your team,” Cameron said. “What our engineering team told us was, ‘Not only can we do this but we can do it at a significantly lower capital cost than building from scratch.’”

The Geismar, Louisiana, project was brought in at a cost of less time and money than a new build would have demanded. The two plants started production in 2015. Although engineering and logistics played a big part in the project’s success, Methanex’s balance sheet facilitated the quick move.

“You want to manage the balance sheet to ensure you’re financially strong to withstand business stress, but also be able to grow and execute your strategy,” Cameron said. “We executed both Geismar projects at a $1.4 billion capital expenditure off our own balance sheet, a reflection of our company’s tremendous financial strength.”

A validation of the company’s financials and resumed solid footing with Egypt and Louisiana both in place came in November 2014 when Cameron gained access to the 30-year bond market for the first time in Methanex’s history. The reputational currency Cameron helped create over more than 25 years at Methanex was converted into the issuance of $300 million in unsecured notes due December 2044.

“In order to access the 30-year bond market you need to be a very solid investment-grade company. For us, it was symbolic of the improvement in the quality of the business [we undertook] that we were able to access a market that up until that point would not have been accessible to us. The advantage, of course, is that we de-risk our balance sheet because they are a very long-dated piece of paper.”

The market loves certainty, and shareholders during Cameron’s tenure have also been rewarded in disciplined fashion. Methanex has bought back more than half of the company’s outstanding shares over a 20-year period. The company has also raised the shareholder dividend 11 times since 2002. Importantly, the dividend has been issued unabated through market swings including 2008’s global financial crisis and last year’s methanol down cycle.

Cameron calls Methanex’s disciplined strategic approach a “religion” shared by board, CEO and management alike. It certainly helps when everyone shares the same mindset.

“A lot of people that came to my department with finance and accounting backgrounds are doing very, very interesting things and have some of the most senior jobs in our company,” he said.

Join us June 1 when Business in Vancouver celebrates the 2017 BC CFO Awards at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For further information or to register for the event, visit the event's page at