Sudbury's business community celebrated the career and legacy of a man who risked his own life many times for the sake of his business, at a retirement party for Robert Lipic Monday night.
Lipic, the former president and CEO of Mining Technologies International (MTI), was surprised to enter a room with his closest friends and family that evening, in honour of his more than 50 year career in the mining industry.
“When I got here to see the parking lot with so many cars, and then walking in here, it was a tremendous surprise,” Lipic said. “It's overwhelming.”
Born in Welland, Ont., in August 1944, Lipic went on to graduate from the famed Haileybury School of Mines in 1966, where he studied to become a field geologist.
He worked for mining consultants for several years, and in 1971 moved to Copper Cliff, where he worked for Ontario Equipment, where he sold rock bits made by the company Smith.
In 1974, Lipic was transferred to Smith International, where he worked until 1984. That year, the company asked if he would transfer to California as their Canadian division trimmed down.
Instead of accepting the offer, Lipic asked if he could buy the Canadian division.
In 1985 he was able to negotiate a deal with Smith International, and in 1986 Lipic founded Drillex International.
In 1995 he bought Continuous Mining Systems, which became Mining Technologies International, or MTI.
At that time, the company had 28 employees in its manufacturing division. Through international mining equipment sales, that number expanded to 500 employees in 2012. The company made more than $100 million in revenues that year.
To pursue those international sales, Lipic travelled to more than 45 countries throughout his career, and put his own safety at risk on more than one occasion.
While travelling by car in the southern Philippine islands in the early 1990s, he took gunfire from Communist rebels, but emerged unscathed.
During another trip in Nigeria, Lipic escaped a near kidnapping and avoided almost certain death.
A group of men met him at his hotel and asked him to enter their Mercedes so they could bring him to his business meeting.
“Somehow they got a hold of my name and passport,” Lipic said. “It was amazing how well they were tuned in.”
He was a bit hesitant, but eventually entered the car.
They drove him outside of Lagos, Nigeria's capital, before the car broke down on the side of the road.
The men called a cab and had it bring Lipic to a Novotel hotel, back in the city, where he was told to wait for them to return.
After waiting in the hotel lobby for more than an hour, he started to speak with the concierge, who informed him he had just been kidnapped.
The concierge arranged for Lipic to be driven back to his hotel, and told him not to leave his room until his original contact came.
Michael Atkins, the owner of Laurentian Media Group, which publishes Northern Life and Northern Ontario Business, said Lipic's success was due to a combination of talent and luck.
“He's just an adventurer,” Atkins said.
That adventurous spirit, he said, pushed Lipic to become one of the early pioneers of Sudbury's mining supply and services sector.
Lipic was recognized as the Northern Ontario Business Awards' entrepreneur of the year in 2006, and exporter of the year in 2012.
George Flumerfelt, the president and CEO of Redpath Mining Contractors and Engineers, spoke at Lipic's retirement party.
“I think it's important that we honour the people who have made enormous contributions to the Canadian mining industry,” he said. “He (Lipic) was always interested in developing new products. He was always interested in things that improved productivity for the Canadian mining industry.”
In April 2014 Lipic sold MTI to Milwaukee-based Joy Global Inc. for $51 million.