Norman Keevil: Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Pacific Lifetime Achievement Award (National Post – December 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Overseeing a $25-billion company doesn’t exactly sound like a very entrepreneurial job, but then Teck Resources wasn’t always so big. It traces its roots back to 1912 and a gold discovery at Kirkland Lake, Ont., but it remained a comparatively small company until the early 1970s when it started on a growth streak. Norman Keevil, who joined Teck in 1962, became CEO and president in 1981 and then chairman in 2000, was at the helm for many of the developments that have made Teck the resources giant it is today. “We did it one small step at a time,” he says.

BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY Your philosophy when you started may be different than later on. But I would say now, and maybe it always was, it’s to try to be the best at what you do. For us, that’s been working toward building the best Canadian-based mining or resources company we can. We’ve been all over the place. In the ’60s, we actually had more oil than gold, but then we got out of oil in the ’70s because we realized we didn’t know much about it and then we got back in later on in the oil sands and out of gold. We’ve been willing to be diversified, which is one of our pluses.

In our business, the three keys are people, oil reserves and financial strength, in no particular order. At any given time, there are only so many opportunities out there in the world and if you’re restricted to one commodity, whether it’s gold, coal or copper, if in your mind you’re restricted to one, then by definition there are fewer opportunities. One of our business philosophies is to be opportunistic in the sense that we’re looking for the maximum number of opportunities and size them up to each other, which means being prepared to look at different commodities at different times. We end up being diversified not because we set out to be that way, but because we set out to be opportunistic.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP I hope the company is still entrepreneurial. I’m just the chairman, but I try to encourage entrepreneurialism, which means being opportunistic but being conscious of taking the right opportunities. Is a $25-billion company entrepreneurial? I think it was when it started as a $20-million company and that’s not that many years ago.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE The latest and biggest challenge was in 2007 and 2008. When the global financial crisis hit, a lot of people thought we’d go under and we didn’t, but it was a huge challenge getting out of it. I actually bought stock on the way down a couple of times to show confidence, but I chickened out at the bottom because at one point I thought maybe these guys who think we’re going under know something I don’t know. But our whole management team and our board pulled together and spent six months, non-stop effort, to get us out of that situation and did it very successfully.

Our CEO, Donald Lindsay, did a helluva job managing the expectations of the banks and keeping them confident that we were doing the right thing. The people on the street who thought we might go under ignored the fact that we had the confidence of the banks, both the Canadian ones and the American ones such as JPMorgan Chase.

For the rest of this profile, please go to the National Post website: