Dino Otranto, the new man at the helm of Vale Base Metals in Canada said he is more than pleased with the level of commitment from Vale employees. He was equally overwhelmed at the level of innovation and technology being used to keep the company successful.
Just as important he said is the critical need to be more competitive.
Otranto, who has a blue chip mining resume stretching back to the early 2000s, is the new Chief Operating Officer for Vale’s North Atlantic Operations and Asian Refineries. Prior to that he was the company’s Chief Technology Officer based in Toronto.
As he spoke recently from his office in Sudbury Otranto said he had no plan to shake things up when he moved into his role earlier in 2019.
“I think it has been a bit daunting walking into a role that has had so much turnover in this position. So I think one of the first objectives that Angie Robson (Manager, Corporate Affairs & Sustainability) and I set out was to display a message of some relative calmness and stability,” said Otranto.
He said rather than being that new guy coming in with a list of changes, he said the plan was to stick to the fundamentals of doing things that has made Vale successful.
“The people in this place are unbelievable. Their commitment to make this business a success is phenomenal. I have never seen a more engaged workforce my entire life. It is really, really impressive,” Otranto said.
“I am a miner by background. I’ve been in this industry quite a while,” he said as he mentioned past postings in Europe, Africa, and Australia.
That said, Otranto mentioned one of the things he noticed with Vale is that it is a company obsessed with safety. But he said there is room to improve.
“One of my first impressions in working for this business, this industry in Northern Ontario is that we have some work to do to get risk management where I’d like it to be.”
“I have seen a lot of accidents in our industry,” he said. “I have been very close to colleagues who have lost their lives in our industry.”
He said mining is not like working in something such as banking or manufacturing. He acknowledged that the mining environment is challenging. It can be hostile.
“I am very humbled by the responsibility that has been espoused on my shoulders because of what we do every single day. The decisions we take really do affect the lives of people, the societies that we’re in, the environment that we operate in,” he said.
Otranto mentioned the tailings dam failure at Brumadinho in Brazil in January that he said was a tragedy.
“Our industry as a whole needs to quickly change gears and give assurance to the communities that we live in, the people under our employment and to the people that choose to invest money in our business that we can safely manage risk in our operations for another generation or two or three,” he said.
Otranto said he wanted people in Canada, and indeed in Sudbury, need to know the Vale regards the issue seriously.
“I have answered this from a personal perspective so I have chosen to live in Sudbury right in very close proximity to one of the world’s largest tailings dams.
“And I do that with 100 per cent assurance that we adopt world’s best practices in construction, operating practices here internally, we have independently verified by multiple parties and recently acknowledged by the ICMM (International Council on Mining & Metals) as having with the Canadian Dam Association practices, as having one of the highest if not the highest standard in the world here in Canada.
“In saying all of that, you should never, ever, ever be comfortable with risk and the consequence is still there. So my job every single day, if there is one thing that would make me lose sleep at night, is managing risk around the dams and all the other risks we have in our business,” Otranto said.
He quickly added that Vale is investing in whatever technology that is available to keep people from harm, but he said a very close second priority is to improve production in the mines.
“Otherwise the unfortunate reality is the ore will continue to be in the ground. We have an abundance of ore here, one of the top three nickel-copper ore bodies in the entire world, right here. We haven’t really scratched the surface of the potential of that orebody,” he said.
“That’s what really excites me about this business, but not withstanding that it also makes me lose a bit of sleep because it is not going to be easy to go after,” he added.
Otranto said one challenge is applying the right data to better figure out where future ore bodies will be found.
“The biggest opportunity for us in terms of technology is understanding the make-up of our ore bodies to a much, much higher degree of certainty. We know that the abundant surface orebodies that have kept us as an employer have started to be depleted. That is the case everywhere.”
Otranto said as orebodies get deeper the company will be challenged to find the higher value ore and to recover it efficiently and safely. He said the mining business also needs to change its business model.
“The only solution we see and has been successful for us is we see partnerships and getting away from the mindset that I own the data and no one else can touch it. Historically, a lot of our manufacturers and ourselves have made a lot of money having that mindset. The reality is this is not really the business model that is going to be successful in the future,” he said.
Otranto said technical change and innovation is now being executed at numerous Vale operations in Sudbury, in Canada and around the world. He said he is encouraged and believes Vale is on the right track.
“I think we need to reinforce why we are doing innovation. I think our industry is under immense pressure by our shareholder base. They are concerned this is another poor investment of capital. I have been involved in innovation technology since I started in the industry and what I continually heard was are you just now deploying excess monies and revenues that you have in another failed venture?
“And I think we have the opportunity to highlight that innovation is about something. It is not about just innovation for its own sake. We have to become safer and more productive. That’s what we have to do in our industry.”