Harshaw takes the reins at Vale
Stuart Harshaw, Vale’s new senior executive in Sudbury, is happy to be back in the nickel city, but will have his hands full steering the mining giant’s Ontario Operations through the current commodity slump.
A metallurgical engineer with 26 years of experience with Inco and Vale, Harshaw has served in a variety of roles beginning with a stint at the company’s nickel refinery in Port Colbourne straight out of university. He worked at the copper refinery in Sudbury from 1996 to 1999, spent several years at head office in Toronto, oversaw finished nickel sales for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India from London, and, most recently, ran Vale’s Asian business from an office in Singapore.
“It was fantastic coming back,” he said. “Our camp just north of Parry Sound has been underutilized for several years and we have family and friends in Sudbury and Toronto, so it’s good to be home.”
Keeping Vale’s Ontario operations humming through a period of weak prices will be his biggest challenge, but Sudbury remains profitable because of its polymetallic orebody, said Harshaw,
The combination of a hiring freeze, spending restraint and the deferral of capital projects are the primary strategies the business unit is relying on to make ends meet.
“We’re not risking anything to do with safety, but I personally have to approve every new hire,” said Harshaw.
“At the same time, we’re working with all of our partners in the Sudbury region and outside to try to reduce the cost impacts on us as much as we can. We’re trying to work together with our suppliers in order to make sure that both of us are doing as good as we can in these tough times. That’s been a steady effort in the past year. It’s a big focus.”
Vale is also deferring capital projects, including some components of the $1 billion Atmospheric Emission Reduction project that are being moved to 2017.
“We’re still meeting all of our commitments from an environmental point of view,” said Harshaw. “We’re just trying to spread it out more.”
Several mine development projects, including Copper Cliff Deep, are on hold pending an improvement in the market.
“Copper Cliff is at the stage where we’re ready to move on it, but it will depend on the financial situation of the company,” said Harshaw. “Copper Cliff will be our next big investment and will be a big part of our future in Sudbury.” The company’s Victor project is further down the road.
Harshaw attributes the slump in nickel prices to weakening demand from China and oversupply caused by new mines coming on stream as a result of investments in capacity made during the commodity boom.
He sees potential for an improvement in the market, but notes “there’s a lot of uncertainty about when that’s going to happen.”
On the plus side, he said, Sudbury is a great place to invest, and a five-year contract with the United Steelworkers bodes well for labour peace.