Kinross recently welcomed Mike Sylvestre as the Company’s new Regional Vice-President, Africa. In late January, Kinross World sat down with Mike for an interview.
Pictured above: Mike Sylvestre, Regional Vice-President, Kinross Africa
A Bit of Background:
Mike came to Kinross from Claude Resources, where he was Interim President & CEO. Before that, he was President & CEO at Castle Resources… and before that he was COO at Linear Gold.
But the bulk of his career was spent with Vale/Inco – starting way back in 1975, and culminating in his role as Director General/CEO at Vale’s massive nickel operation in New Caledonia (a collection of small islands about 1,200 kilometres east of Australia.) In this role, Mike was charged with advancing the company’s multi-billion dollar Goro Project – a massive nickel operation.
Pictured above: Mike in 2006, when he was President of Vale/Inco’s Manitoba Operations
Pictured above: Mike with his wife (Nancy) and two boys (Nicolas and Adam), during Mike’s time with Vale/Inco in New Caledonia
Pictured above: The Goro Project, in New Caledonia.
What attracted you to mining?
When I was a little boy, I used to tell everyone I either wanted to be a Geologist or an Astronaut. I have always been fascinated by flight.
I grew up in Sudbury – a mining town in northern Ontario – and in high school I decided I wanted to study Engineering. Given my childhood, surrounded by mines and miners, Mining Engineering seemed a very logical choice.
I haven’t become an Astronaut (yet!), but I DID earn my pilot’s license when I was about 35, and enjoy flying float planes.
Pictured above: Mike with his wife Nancy, son Nicolas, and their C-FMAC float plane.
Did your parents work in mining? Do you have brothers and sisters?
My mother was a caretaker at an old age home in Sudbury, and my father was a supervisor at a heavy machinery fabrication plant. I have an older brother and a younger sister.
Did you have a part-time job when you were growing up? What was the first “big” thing you remember buying with your own money?
My first part-time job was working on weekends at the Sudbury Star (a small local newspaper that’s still in circulation.) My job was to insert flyers in the weekend paper as they came off the press.
And (laughing), the first thing I bought with my own money was a car…an old 1961 green Volkswagen mini bus.
You spent the bulk of your career with Vale/Inco. If you had to single out one memorable person you worked with during your time there, who would it be?
Graham Ross, who at that time was Manager of the Stobie Complex (a mining complex in Sudbury). Graham was way ahead of his time with respect to pushing hard for zero harm in the work place. He was such a strong advocate of safety first. I was the superintendent at Little Stobie at the time when Graham was Site Manager. He taught me a lot about how to always place safety first. He was a real role model for me when it comes to safety in the mining industry.
If you could sum up your safety philosophy in one or two sentences, what would it be?
I believe in Zero Harm to employees, environment and property. Safety starts at the top and we all have to “walk the talk”.
Pictured above: Mike (at left), at PT Inco Indonesia
What has been the most significant safety-related event you have faced in your career?
Fatalities and critical injuries. They’re the most serious events a site leader has to face. And having been in this business going on over three decades, I’ve regrettably seen people get badly injured and even killed. I take these events very personally: so much so that I find them hard to talk about. I think they’re certainly a big reason why people in mining become safety fanatics.
When I worked in Indonesia, I developed close relationships with lots of local people, including a young guy named Agus Sancho. He was in his early 30s, had a family, and had come to work at the mine.
I had started a “toastmasters” club to help the local Indonesian people learn English and improve their public speaking skills, and Agus had taken a keen interest in this – he eventually became part of the club’s executive.
One weekend in 2003, Agus had a fatal accident at a hydro-electric dam while diving with the Soroako diving club. It was a terrible tragedy. It’s been more than a decade since it happened, and I still have a hard time discussing it. (Mike’s exact words: “I don’t like to go there.”)
I truly believe that it is our job as leaders to get our employees home safely each and every day. I put a lot of effort behind pushing for safety excellence. It’s great to have joined a company like Kinross that is a safety leader in the mining world.
You spent many years in New Caledonia, and worked closely with the indigenous people there. What has working with other cultures taught you?
To embrace and learn about the country you are a guest in, and the people who live there. To be accepting of other cultures and beliefs. To be open-minded and respectful.
The 2002 Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people happened just as my wife and I, and our then-8-month-old son Nicolas, landed in Sydney, Australia – it was our last transit stop on our relocation to Indonesia, where we would be living, and where I was joining the Vale team. After the bombing, all expat women and children were evacuated to Perth, which is where Nancy and the baby stayed for a short time. I went on to Indonesia to support my team and oversee operations, which had continued uninterrupted. Two weeks later I returned to Perth, and brought Nancy and Nicolas back with me to Soroako.
Despite what others may have thought at the time about Indonesia, we loved our time there, we loved the culture, and we loved the people.
Working in remote or different parts of the world has taught me a lot about human nature in general. At the end of the day, most people are not complicated – they just want to make a good life and look after their family.
Our industry has come a long way when it comes to corporate social responsibility and partnering with other cultures: Kinross, in particular, does a terrific job of giving back in the communities where they operate – it’s clear to me that this company works hard to be a good neighbour.
Pictured above: Mike visits with children in a small Indonesian village called Nuha
Pictured above: Mike presides over a ceremony at PT Inco Indonesia
Pictured above: Mike welcomes the Indonesian Military to Soroako, PT Inco Indonesia
You have a wife and two sons. How do they feel about moving to Las Palmas?
My wife Nancy and my two boys Nicolas (13 years old) and Adam (10 years old), are very excited to join me here in Las Palmas in June. They are looking forward to experiencing the culture and meeting new people. They know from past relocations that it will be an enriching learning experience.
Pictured above: Mike with his son Adam in Thompson, Manitoba…enjoying the endless winters!
Pictured above: Mike’s son Nicolas sits at Mike’s desk at Pt Inco Indonesia
You have only been with Kinross a short time, but what is your general impression of our company and our people?
My impression is very positive. I see real people working really hard to make things happen. I see a high performance culture and a company that has values that I share.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
With two young boys at home and a busy job, I don’t have much time to spare, but I really enjoy flying float planes, going to the gym, and skiing. In my younger days, I was a member of the Canadian Ski Patrol*. In Canada, I used to spend a lot of time at the ice hockey arena with my sons, but I have yet to see an arena in Las Palmas!
*The Canadian Ski Patrol is a national organization that provides advanced first aid and emergency response services at ski resorts across Canada.
Pictured above: Mike skiing with his wife Nancy at Mammoth Mountain in California, USA
If you had to describe yourself using 3 words, what would they be?
Patient. Focused. Committed.
If your sons had to describe you using 3 words, what would they be?
Fun. Awesome. Adventurous. (Their own words, I asked them!)
What are you most proud of?
Someone once said, “With leadership…comes great responsibility.” I am privileged to be a leader in this industry, and to have had the opportunity to flex my influence to create positive impacts in areas I feel are critically important: safety, continuous improvement, and community relations as examples. I hope to continue that trend and leave a positive impact here at Kinross.
What are a few of your top priorities for Kinross in Africa in 2015?
Continue supporting our teams in safety excellence. Strive towards continuous improvement across a variety of areas at our operations. Contribute to and support the Tasiast strategy. Focus on the Chirano life-of-mine extension.
What was the last experience that made you a stronger person?
Raising two energetic young boys…I have developed 10-fold in patience.
Name something they don’t teach people in school, but should.
Appreciate and embrace diversity in people and cultures.
Pictured above: Waterfalls in the Wowondula area near Soroako, PT Inco Indonesia
Pictured above: A python at an exploration camp near Soroako, PT Inco Indonesia. The snake was safely released a distance from the camp, across the Larona River.
Mike’s door and inbox are always open. He is based in our regional office in Las Palmas, and can be reached at email@example.com.