The founder and driving force of SAMSSA is packing it in after 16 years at the helm of the mining supply and service association.
Dick DeStefano, executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association, was all set to retire 16 years ago when Paul Reid, a business development officer with the Sudbury Regional Development Corporation, pitched him on developing the potential of the city’s mining supply and service companies.
“We’re trying to diversify the city and we’ve got this collection of companies in the city’s industrial parks that have no profile, no mandate and don’t know where they’re going,” DeStefano remembers Reid telling him.
“I was 65, but I was a workaholic and I loved building and developing things, so I took him up on the challenge,” he recalled. “That first year, I had 56 one-on-one meetings with mining suppliers in the community. Most of them didn’t believe in the idea of working together to help build the industry. They wanted to know if joining an association would jeopardize their relationship with Inco and asked ‘Why would I want to export when I may not get paid?’”
Six people showed up for the first meeting and only four returned for the next one.
“This isn’t going to work,” DeStefano recalls telling Reid, but 16 years later with 140 members across Northern Ontario and a thriving concentration of more than 500 mining supply and service companies accounting for some 25,000 jobs, SAMSSA has evolved as mining supply and service powerhouse serving the global mining industry.
Born in Sudbury March 31, 1937, DeStefano attended St. Charles College in Sudbury and Scollard Hall in North Bay. He played quarterback in high school and modestly admits to being “a reasonably competent hockey player.”
His grandfather had immigrated to Canada from Italy and worked for Inco. His father was in the retail business and his mother, a “domestic engineer,” came to Sudbury at the age of 13.
DeStefano earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of Western Ontario in London, a Bachelor of Physical Education degree from the University of Waterloo and a Masters degree from Michigan State. He began his teaching career in the then booming uranium mining town of Elliot Lake and continued his career in Sudbury, where he met his wife Maureen – “my trusted friend and advisor for 52 years.” They have two sons, Joel, 39, and Devin, 47.
DeStefano initially worked as a guidance counsellor at Garson-Falconbridge High School and spent 12 years as a guidance counsellor at Cambrian College.
Following his 20-year career in education, he served as a commissioner on the Canadian Radio and Television Commission from 1980 to 1985, a federal government regulatory agency overseeing Canadian broadcasting and telecommunications.
He also had his own consulting business providing economic diversification and community development services for municipalities across the country and spent a number of years pioneering distance education services and technologies for healthcare professionals – both for the provincial government’s Ministry of Health and on his own.
DeStefano credits his background as a generalist with experience in education, community development and communication technologies for his success with SAMSSA.
Membership began to grow beyond the first half-dozen or so founding members, but dipped again in 2008 as a result of that year’s financial crisis and its impact on the mining industry.
“I took a major pay cut and we slashed our budget to continue operating because guys were dropping off,” he recalled. Fortunately, the economy recovered the following year and membership began climbing once again.
Today, SAMSSA provides a wide range of programs and services that help its members grow their business. It organizes trade missions to stimulate export business, operates quarterly export club networking events, hosts incoming delegations of mining companies and promotes its members to a global mining marketplace through its website.
Its annual general meetings draw big crowds and the SAMSSA Hall of Fame honours the trailblazers of the mining supply community.
DeStefano credits Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal for supporting SAMSSA’s mission of growing Northern Ontario’s mining cluster and raising the profile of the mining supply and service companies.
“When Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal began publishing in 2004, we began to see more and more stories in the media about individual supply and service companies.”
Also singled out for supporting SAMSSA’s success are the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation and the province’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
In 2003, roughly eight per cent of the mining suppliers in Northern Ontario flirted with the export market, said DeStefano. Today, he said, between 25 and 35 per cent of suppliers are selling their products and services around the world and some have opened offices in places like Chile and Nevada.
“I’m really quite proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said DeStefano.
More than just a concentration of mining supply and service companies, SAMSSA’s members constitute a mining technology hub developing advanced digital and battery-electric technologies that are in demand by mining companies around the world.
SAMSSA’s new executive director is expected to be announced in June.
Norm Tollinsky is the recently retired founding editor of Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal.