When Research Can Lead to a New Career (from Finance to Corporate Social Responsibility)

By Colin Kee

The Schulich International Case Competition which focusses on mining-related topics, happens each November. This was the competition that would change the course of my career; I was part of the TRSM team that made the finals last year.

In preparation for the case competition, we were coached by Professor Kernaghan Webb and Professor Philip Walsh. Professor Dale Carl also helped us with his insightful and supportive feedback. Dr. Webb is a law professor at TRSM and the founding director of the Ryerson Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  He is also a special advisor to the UN on the ISO 26000 Social Responsibility standards. Dr. Phil Walsh is a seasoned professor who has an extensive natural resources background and is supporting TRSM`s current mining programs.

Our topic for the case competition was mergers and acquisitions in the mining industry and how to evaluate the social risks associated with a target company. This year the topic is community engagement in the mining industry. Both topics touch on the topic of “a social license to operate”.

I found the convergence among finance, mining, CSR/sustainability, and socio-economics to be really interesting and engaging.  After the Schulich competition, I decided to focus my energy and studies in these areas for the remainder of my time at Ryerson. It was going to be a gamble and foray into an unknown area, but I hoped it would land me somewhere rewarding.

For my major research paper, guided by Professor Webb, I explored the idea of measuring the socio-economic benefits and impact of mining operations.  As it turned out, while conducting my literature review, I discovered that there was no actual real data published on this topic, just a bunch of estimation methods that attempted to calculate socio-economic impact. For example, a mining company may decide to purchase equipment from a local dealer instead of having it shipped in from overseas. The profit that the local dealer makes then gets spent or invested locally. All of this spending and investment has a multiplier effect on the local economy.

Even after talking with someone at StatsCan and a Ryerson data librarian, I couldn’t find any data.  Was I trying to research something that had never been done before?  Frustrated but undeterred, I was up late one night on Google and I stumbled on an obscure StatsCan database where you could conduct a search of “mining reliant communities” and find the associated census data on these communities across 10 years.  Bingo (or Paydirt, as they say in the industry). These data that could be manipulated to produce multipliers on specific socio-economic indicators was a major discovery which would call into question the validity of the existing estimation methods used to promote mining interests to governments, NGOs, local communities, media, employees etc. As compared with the data, it appeared as if estimation methods typically used to find the multiplier effects of a mining company’s activities were overstated, especially in the case of brownfield (or re-start) operations.

Fast forward to the job hunt — An interesting internship posting in Toronto happened to cross my screen for a new mining consultancy called MacCormick that focuses specifically on CSR and Executive Search. The opportunity was to do some deeper market analysis around this topic in the industry and support project engagements in CSR for our mining clients.  I thought it would be a perfect fit with what I had been doing at Ryerson and my new interest in CSR in mining. I started the internship at MacCormick in June 2012, and in September 2012 I was offered a full-time consultant role.

The company was started in 2009, so it is still somewhat of a start-up; however the people we have on board are motivated, experienced and passionate about what they do.  We work particularly in the areas of community engagement, local skills/capacity building, social due diligence, and the financial quantification of social investments. Because of my finance background, I handle a lot of McCormick’s quantitative work.  However it seems like just about all the skills and knowledge I gained at TRSM have, in some way, been applicable to my position at MacCormick.  I am regularly involved with marketing activities, business development, proposal and report writing, and presentations.

The work environment at MacCormick is fun and engaging, and I am learning more about the mining industry every day. I work with a great team of people, on some really interesting and challenging projects, and I am constantly expanding my networks in the field. It’s the kind of position that doesn’t feel like a job because the work is so rewarding. This industry gets you to think out-of-the-box by exposing you to challenging and stimulating experiences that are impacting people all over the world at the ground level, whether it is with local communities here in Canada or abroad. I am making a positive contribution to an industry where one person truly can make a difference, and that to me isn’t a job, it’s a great career.

Lastly, I think a career switch can happen because you are passionate and interested in a certain field and can bring relevant skills to that new field. Although most people in the mining CSR/sustainability field have an international development background, there are many people working in this area whose backgrounds include: accounting, finance, sociology, environmental sciences, communications/PR, mediation/conflict resolution, and law etc.

Colin Kee is a Consultant at MacCormick International Mining Consultancy and is an MBA graduate from the Ted Rogers School of Management (2012) at Ryerson University.

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