Nfld. & Labrador

'Where the magic happens': IOC boss says success comes from people

The president and CEO of the Iron Ore Company of Canada says his company is ready to weather any storm by investing in its people, and providing what the market wants.

IOC president tells St. John's Board of Trade company has to prepare for the unexpected

Iron Ore Company of Canada president and CEO Clayton Walker says satisfied employees lead to better work and a better, more competitive business. (Gary Locke/CBC)

The president of the Iron Ore Company of Canada says his company is "really excited" about its expansion of the Wabush 3 mine in Labrador, and investing in its employees in order to be competitive in a volatile mineral market. 

Clayton Walker addressed a meeting of the St. John's Board of Trade at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John's Monday afternoon, delivering a clear message about how IOC plans to prosper in the current economic climate.

"We're really excited about the Wabush 3 expansion because ... it allows us to add another 12 years of life and create some new jobs in Labrador, which is really a sign of the uptick in the market," he said.

70 new temporary construction jobs have been created, and the current workforce will move to the Wabush 3 mine when it's ready, with production slated for July 2018. 

IOC president and CEO Clayton Walker spoke to the St. John's Board of Trade Monday. (Gary Locke/CBC)

But Walker said the company can't see what the future holds. 

"We're happy right now, the market's going great, you hear lots of positive things. All we've done is gotten back to the same price it was at the start of 2015 with all of that."

"I think the issue is that you can't focus on the price or the market, you need to focus on what you can control," said Walker.

Safety, engaging employees, and productivity are what IOC is focusing on. 

"We can control that. And if we get that really good, we can weather the storm, if you will, and ride those ups and downs, and have a good sustainable business ... that people are happy and proud to come to work in," he said.

"That's where the magic happens." 

Ready for what market holds

Walker told the audience the keys to success are understanding what drives the market, and understanding what's happening with local, federal and international governments. 

"To get an idea of scale," he said, China produces about 800 million tonnes of steel a year compared to the U.S.'s 80 million tonnes," making it a major consumer of iron ore.

"Last year, China actually produced more steel using less mills. That's because they're trying to change their environmental policy. They're going to the higher, more efficient mills which is changing the pollutants that come out of that," he said.

"That means there's a drive for higher quality ores, which is what we produce at IOC."

IOC on the ground

Walker said the company is still waiting for a dust study in Labrador City to be completed, hoping it will be ready in the next 60 days, and "doing everything we can to minimize its impact" through dust suppression and protective gear. 

As for how IOC is helping workers in light of a number of recent suicides of current or former employees, Walker said counsellors will stay in the community as long as necessary to help employees. 

"We need to be comfortable in talking about the issues of suicide and helping each other as a society to deal with it," Walker said.

"We've also started a task force in conjunction with the government to help bring to light, and make it a little easier to talk about mental health issues and how we as a society to deal with it." 

A volatile market, dust and suicides are not the only issues the company is dealing with. 

The union representing workers at the mine has a long list of grievances going back over years. Although the union has said things are improving under Walker, who became president in December 2016, there are a number of issues to be resolved. 

"Who knows when they're all going to be dealt with? We've got years of history that we've been dragging along, it's going to take a while to get through that," said Walker.

"But I keep saying to everybody it's one step at a time and we'll just keep working our way through that until we resolve it." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan McCabe is a former journalist who worked with CBC News in St. John's.

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