Select Language



No match found


No match found


No match found


No match found


No match found


No match found


No match found


No match found

Rock Legends Reflect on Mining Hits and Misses: Global Metals, Mining & Critical Minerals Conference

resource image
  •  Minute Read Clock/
  • ListenListen/ StopStop/
  • Text Bigger | Text Smaller Text


It’s not every day that four mining industry legends get together to talk about the state of their sector. But at this year’s Global Metals, Mining & Critical Minerals Conference, a group of former leading mining executives with more than 172 years of experience between them, did just that, sharing their thoughts on everything from capital expenses, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, innovation and more. 

The panel, entitled “Rock Legends – Greatest Hits and Misses,” was led by Pierre Lassonde, co-founder and now chairman emeritus at Franco-Nevada Corp., the first publicly traded gold royalty company. It featured Mark Cutifani, who spent nearly a decade at the helm of Anglo American, Gary Goldberg, Newmont’s CEO from 2013 to 2019, and Doug Upton, a former partner at the Capital Group, one of the oldest and largest investment management firms. 

Lassonde had five areas he wanted to cover, framing questions from the point of view of shareholders. Here are his key questions and the panellists’ answers, edited for length and clarity. 

Increases in Capital Expenditures

Currently, the industry expansion of capital expenditures versus earnings before interest and taxes is at a 20-year low. “Is this good or bad for shareholders?” Lassonde asked.

Gary Goldberg: Clearly, there’s been an increase in the discipline around capital expenditure – costs are up, the size of the projects are up, so people are being much more careful. It also takes a long time to get local permission to move forward within communities and to get permitting done. That delays your ability to bring forward the project. I don’t think people are cutting out from doing projects, it just takes a lot longer, they’re bigger and they’re more difficult to do. Timing is everything when it comes to projects.

Mark Cutifani: Developing new projects is becoming more expensive. Exploration costs have doubled in terms of the cost per unit of material found in the last 20 years, so we’re finding less and it’s more expensive to develop. As a consequence, the discipline, particularly over the last 10 years, has been a lot better. There is more of a focus on returns and shareholder perspectives today than I’ve seen in my 46 years (as a mining executive).

Doug Upton: The industry was stronger in the 1990s than it is today. It’s become more fragile and less able to sustain investing through the cycle of sustained exploration. The cyclicality of capital spending has gone from little cycles to flat-out doing nothing. From an investment point of view, it means that we’ve come from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, where demand cycle dynamics were driving things, and now we’re in supply cycles, which is really interesting because the amplitude is a lot higher. We’re now eight or nine years into a period of severe under-investment for the mining industry. It’s the most interesting setup ever.

Industry Focus on ESG 

Many mining sector executives have ESG high on their agendas, but Lassonde asked, is it “just another cost centre or does it have tangible benefits for shareholders?” 

Cutifani: If you’re not getting it right, you won’t have a ticket to the game. You need to get safety right – that’s a commitment to looking after employees and making sure they’re safe and healthy at work. If you don’t get the environmental issues right or tailor STEM skills, for example, you can destroy your business in one step. In terms of social performance, we need to have our relationships right with our local communities, with regional communities, with governments. If you’re not doing it, you won’t have a business. So it’s all or nothing as far as I’m concerned. 

Upton: ESG has become a thing that we talk about, it’s got an actual name, and so we’re now focused a lot on what we can measure. But it’s also still a bit of a moving target because it’s pretty new. What’s most interesting about ESG is that the finance industry is taking on the role of making judgments about what’s a good level of diversity, what’s the right way to treat a local community, how fast companies should decarbonize – those sorts of things.

Goldberg: ESG is critical for any business in the mining industry to be successful. You have to attract talent, capital to invest in your business and you need access to resources. You need to look after the safety (of employees), the environment, your relationship with the community. If you don’t have the local community support, you’re not going to make it anywhere else. Our customers are also demanding it. With the World Gold Council, we developed the responsible gold mining principles a few years ago. It was quite a process to bring everybody in that group along, but they finally agreed and now we’ve taken the next step to where it’s actually a condition to report on your progress to be a member of the Council. 

Declining Grades and Improving Innovation 

Over the last 20 to 40 years, the grade of gold, copper and other commodities have come down “some of it precipitously,” said Lassonde, adding that miners are “producing the same amount but at higher costs.” Against this backdrop, he asked how the industry can change that trajectory and what game-changing innovations are out there.

Goldberg: There are a lot of really sharp people working on some areas here. Exploration is one example. A lot of the easier-to-find deposits on the surface have been found, but the ability to find some of those under deeper cover is critical, so having technology is a critical piece. There are also people working in areas around recovering metals from what we considered waste streams. A lot of work is going on to reduce energy consumption, whether it be from mining or milling, and automation has made a big difference there.

Cutifani: In the last 100 years, grades have dropped an average of 1.5% per year and that’s going to continue. Each mine mines 40 to 50 metres deeper every year, so that either manifests in waste cost or a longer time to get to an underground location. Those developments we’re seeing are also further away from infrastructure. So the structural cost base in the industry shifts around 5% to 10% each year. We’ve always been innovating, but we’ve got to think very differently about the way we innovate going forward. Today, whether it’s precision mining, ore sorting or cost particle flotation, those technologies are the sorts of things that will shift those numbers by 30% to 40%. The companies that can get ahead of that curve will lead performance.

Upton: For a long time, technology’s been able to improve fast enough that it actually enables access to the low grade ores. It feels like that’s turning a bit now in the other direction. I do wonder whether the research and development (R&D) efforts of the mining industry have just slowed down in the last 20 or 30 years and we’re not trying as hard as we used to. The incremental technology is just not there. 

Goldberg: I don’t think R&D should be mandated, but it should come down to the priorities that the business sees out in front of it, not just in the next six months, but the next 10 or 15 years. That’s hard to do. Most of us don’t sit in the seat for nine years or longer in the CEO role, so it’s hard to take that long-term view, and investors can change every quarter. But at the end of the day, it should be up to the company to look at its priorities.

A More Connected Planet 

Lassonde pointed out that the world is shrinking, with everything from global conflict to nationalism impacting mining opportunities. At the same time – and perhaps for the first time, he says – politicians and the public are seeing the mining industry as a solution to a greener world. “How should mining companies approach this new world?” he asked.

Goldberg: I had a simple rule when it came to this idea – I wasn’t comfortable putting our people in a place where I wouldn’t be comfortable taking my family. The personal safety piece is what we need to begin with. Getting exploration right is the other piece. We sent our explorers to all parts of the world – they’re the first ones out in the community and they really set the expectations of what people in the community expect from the mining company. If you get that wrong, you’re going to get shut out of that area, maybe forever, so it’s critical to get that right along the way.

Cutifani: As a mining company, we have to follow where the resources are, and so the key question for us has to be ‘how do we engage with partners in our developments?’ whether it’s employees, customers, local communities, in particular. With the internet, people can see what others get in other locations. So how we engage is something that I think we have to be very strategic about.

Better Place for Investors 

The final question from Lassonde was pointed and spoke to the idea that the mining industry isn’t a place where investors want to be. “How do we change the perception that we’re a lousy place for investors to put their money?” he asked the panellists. 

Cutifani: Fundamentals will ultimately drive where the industry goes. So it’s about investment, it’s about returns. In an inflation-fuelled world, if you can improve your cost or keep your costs tight, you’ll do much better, and you will certainly be a better investment property, but it’s about fundamentals.

Read more


Mining Market Pivot on the Horizon

Dan Barclay February 27, 2023

  “We’ve managed through some very difficult periods, the pandemic, the tragic war in Ukraine and the impact of all of that on su…


Will 2023 be the Year of Gold: World Gold Council at BMO Conference

March 01, 2023

  If last year was the year of the dollar, 2023 may be a year that gold starts to gain momentum, especially if the World Gold Council’s…


Evolving Mining for a Sustainable Energy Transition: ICMM CEO Rohitesh Dhawan in Conversation

Dan Barclay March 02, 2023

  “The world has woken up to the scale of our biodiversity crisis. And if we don’t urgently stop and halt and reverse the loss of…


The Most Valuable Commodity is Trust: ICMM to BMO Global Metals, Mining & Critical Minerals Conference

March 06, 2023

  At a time when the global mining industry is looking to meet growing demand, the first keynote speaker at BMO’s 32nd annual Global Me…


Exploring North America’s Critical Minerals Advantage: Global Metals, Mining & Critical Minerals Conference

Michael Torrance March 06, 2023

  Can North America become a leader in critical minerals mining? That’s a question that was explored by a panel of industry experts at …


Global Metals & Mining 33rd Global Metals, Mining & Critical Minerals Conference

Feb. 25 - 28, 2024 Hollywood, Florida

Email Us

You might also be interested in