Where did life start and how did you get to where you are today?
L: Born in Eastern Ontario and went to school just north of Kingston as well as high school in Picton. Lived on a farm north of Kingston and then on a farm in Prince Edward County. I still have the farm and use it as a getaway place.
I went to the University of Western Ontario and stayed in London, working for KPMG to obtain my CA designation. I then got married and came to Toronto as my wife who is also a CA was working in Toronto. She is from Bracebridge and Gravenhurst in the Muskoka area. We spent a number of years in Toronto but I left public accounting after three years. Earning a CA designation for me was similar to the same reason some people get their MBA. It was a way to learn business. My first job in industry was working for Suncor in the corporate office in Toronto. This would have been 1979 – 1980 and then I transferred to Fort McMurray, Alberta for 5 years.
Tell us about Fort McMurray.
We went with an infant and our second son was born there. So it was a great place to be in the early 80s. We both worked and were very active in the community. I belonged to Rotary and United Way. I was probably one of the youngest managers in a site with more than 2000 employees. It was a case of having the technical qualifications while I gained lots of business experience that you wouldn’t get in almost any organization at that time. I was 31 when I left Ft. McMurray.
Suncor was supportive of community involvement and professional development?
L: Yes, they were very supportive on that front. It was a great experience not only from a practical, a day-to-day basis but they were also very good on access to professional development. We left Fort McMurray because I did not want to spend the rest of my career there and even then, Suncor was very oil sand-centric. As much as I was on a great career track, my CA designation and my experience in Fort McMurray allowed me return to Ontario in a senior management role. I joined a waste management company called Tricil, 50% owned by CIL and Trimac. In Fort McMurray I had created a performance analysis group, which was operationally focused, giving me a solid understanding of operations. I started at Tricil as the corporate controller, and quickly transitioned to an operating role, becoming general manager of one of Tricil’s business units.
Obviously it was trucking and waste management but where was it operating?
I had the energy from waste plants in Prince Edward Island and Hamilton, along with a couple of landfills, transfer stations and commercial operations, with over 200 employees. Quite a number were drivers and operators of plants. It was a great experience because it was very operationally intensive. When Tricil was sold, I didn’t want to stay with Laidlaw. It was a straight takeover of the business operating out of Hamilton, which is where Laidlaw started. I was one of their competitors until we were bought out. This was 1989-1990.
What I found was that I was more valuable as a finance guy with operational experience rather than the opposite because I didn’t have 20 years of operating experience; I left and became the CFO of Dynatec in the early nineties. Dynatec’s business was mine contracting and engineering, with an international scope about half of the business. At Tricil, a substantial chunk of the business was in the US, so I had a dual role even when I was running the business. Because I was corporate, I was also involved with US operations. So I got my exposure to international operations, albeit at Tricil, it was in the U.S. At Dynatec it was both U.S. as well as the rest of the world. I was at Dynatec for four years.
What was their business?
They were mine contractors. All the unique aspects of mine development, from shaft sinking to tunnel development to diamond drilling for exploration. In addition, we would operate the mine for a junior mining company that didn’t have its own operators. About 40 per cent of the mines were in Canada and the U.S. and the remaining 20 per cent were international, where mining companies operate – examples were Turkey, Chile, and Papua New Guinea.
What was your role there?
L: I was essentially the third member of a three-person management team in Richmond Hill. I was the CFO in title but I was also everything on the administration side. I’d say that I spent half my time on assignments that a General Manager would perform. I negotiated a number of contracts. It was clear that I was hired because I could do the CFO’s job and was able to help run the business. I did whatever the other two principals, who were founders didn’t have time to do.
Was it a profitable business?
L: I had a tough time because the mining industry is cyclical and I was there through a downturn in the industry.
What did you learn from all that?
L: The interesting thing was why I was hired; they wanted a businessman who knew the finance role. I had very little experience but I ended up with a lot of knowledge in managing banks and lenders. I also learned a fair bit about doing complex contracts, both in Canada and internationally. I would say the great opportunity was that I spent the fewest hours in what I already understood and the vast majority of my time learning new roles. It’s just like anything else. You have to exercise business judgment and learn it as you go. It was that experience that let to me being recruited out of the job to go to Marsulex, where I spent 17 years.
How did that all come about? Were you anxious to get out? Did a recruiter call one day?
L: They found me but I was probably ready for the next move. In the last two years at Dynatec, I had to reduce the overhead by half. It was also a stage where many companies shrank their organizations, regardless of whether they were in prosperous times or not. One of my direct reports was ready to be CFO and therefore it worked out for everyone.
Where is Dynatec today?
L: After I left it transformed itself to a mining company and was eventually bought by Sherritt.