President and CEO of North American Palladium Ltd., Jim Gallagher is a professional mining engineer with more than 34 years of experience in the mining industry. We sat down with him to ask him a few questions about his education, his career and everything in between.
How did you get started in the mining business?
To be honest, I had a very narrow view of the opportunities the mining industry offered. I worked for a year at Inco after graduating and entered the geology program at Laurentian. I thought I would be a career geologist working at a mine.
How did you come to choose your educational path?
We had geology courses at Chelmsford High School, which I quite liked and did well in. At the time, I thought this was the best way for a technical person to get into the mining industry. After my second year at Laurentian, and a number of courses that overlapped with the mining engineering program, I made the switch and have never regretted it.
Are there any standout moments you’d like to share from your time at Laurentian?
The day in the science library that I brought a cough drop over to this pretty science student who had been catching my eye and made a joke about her coughing interrupting my studying! We now have four incredible young men as a result of that initial gesture and celebrated 33 years of marriage this July.
My wife, Sofia Eliev (Gallagher), graduated with honours in biochemistry in 1982, and from teachers’ college, also at Laurentian, in 1983. The other key memory of Laurentian was the easy and regular access to various mines and plants in the Sudbury region, an advantage that Laurentian still has over any other mining school.
When have you been the most satisfied with your career?
I have been quite satisfied through most of my career because of a huge variety of experiences. I have been, at a young age, a frontline supervisor for underground mining crews, something I still consider one of the most challenging positions I have ever had. I have had purely technical roles, been involved with research and development, major construction projects, full mine management, and I have had a chance to travel the world. There are not a lot of careers that offer the same variety.
What do you think is one of the most misunderstood/ misrepresented aspects of working in mining?
The general public perception is that mining is a dangerous place to work. The mining industry is held to a different standard and that is okay. I would not want it any other way. The focus and practices in mining, relative to safety and risk mitigation, are second to no other industry, but there is still a lot of work to be done to get to zero harm.
Who is/was your role model/mentor?
I don’t identify with any one individual, but have had the benefit of working for and with a number of great people. As you evolve as an individual and leader, it is important to be able to recognize what makes certain people successful at what they do even though they may have very different personalities.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be an executive within a large company one day?
Manage your own career even if you are working for a large company. Don’t be afraid to step into somebody’s office and say you’d like to try something new. Take some risks with career moves—staying with one company for life is no longer the norm. Lastly, work hard.
What has been one of your proudest achievements?
One of my last roles before I left Falconbridge was to lead a team and establish the vision and operation strategy for the new Nickel Rim mine. That included global best practices and we did things a bit differently from the standard Falconbridge way. Through the sustained effort of a lot of people since that time, Nickel Rim has become a world-class operation. I’m also particularly proud of building one of the largest underground mining capabilities in the Canadian consulting business during my eight years at Hatch.
What is your vision of mining 25 years from now?
Mining is a highly variable business. Each orebody is very different and has a unique size, shape, rock strength and access challenges, to name just a few. This is why the fully-automated mine, which was much talked about 25 years ago, has been difficult to realize.
Automation will continue to be adopted in mining, but the revolution will come from managing the business better through real-time information and data collection, leading to real-time scheduling and direction of human and equipment resources. The days of lining up a worker at the wickets in the morning and finding out what he accomplished at the end of the shift when he hands in his worksheet are coming to an end.
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