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RCF sponsored UWA Business School wins sustainability and value creating competition at PDAC

For the second year in a row, the RCF sponsored University of Western Australia (“UWA”) Business School has won the Schulich International Case Competition at the Prospectors & Development Association of Canada (“PDAC”) convention in Toronto.

The competition requires University and Mining School teams from around the world to submit an essay in response to an industry related question. The top 20 teams travel to Toronto to present their reasoning to a panel of industry judges before the top four teams compete in front of a larger audience at PDAC convention.

In this years’ essay question, competitors were required to identify, ‘What are the most important factors contributing to sustainable strategies for mining companies?’

RCF Managing Partner, James McClements, said that the competition was a valuable way to explore how young people entering the mining industry can create value by prioritizing mining project investment and in the process create sustainable strategies.

“RCF is very proud of the UWA Business School team, who as the next generation of mining industry professionals are making valuable contributions to mining investment and sustainable strategies,” said Mr McClements.

“The competition explores the concept of strategic investment and that mining projects, particularly in today’s challenging metal price environment, face difficult decisions about how to allocate capital to a wide range of initiatives to ensure their sustainability today and well into the future.”

“Sustainable strategies include all aspects of a business from sound environmental management practices through to prudent financing strategies. Sustainable companies do not view any one of these decisions in isolation. Good companies make good decisions across all aspects of their business.”

UWA Business School’s 2016 team was called ‘Team Manganese’ and comprised Matthew Horgan (Team Captain), Timothy Andrews, Jessica Volich and Jessica Harman. First prize was C$10,000 and it was the business school’s second consecutive win and in 2014, their first year of entry, they were runner-up. The RCF sponsorship included travel and accommodation for the competitors to Toronto from Perth, Australia.

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Strategic Investments Provide Valuable Dimension to RCF Portfolio

When RCF began investing its first fund, the US$41.4 million (M) RCF I almost two decades ago, investments ranged up to $7.7M in size. With US$2.04 billion available to invest in Fund VI, it would be easy to ignore smaller opportunities.  RCF, however, continues to make investments at these levels for a variety of reasons.  These particular investments look for opportunities where a strategic benefit can be gained and may be from any number of areas such as a new commodity or country, an attractive opportunity not yet ready for material funding, or a new deal structure.

As the funds have grown substantially over time and the size of the investments increased significantly to include more advanced projects, RCF has made a conscious decision not to exclude strategic investments from its portfolio which make valuable contributions to the pipeline of new projects in the industry.

RCF Partner, Peter Nicholson, explains that as with any potential opportunity, RCF has the innate ability to be flexible and it is far better for potential portfolio companies to approach the firm with what they need to succeed rather than RCF try and define what may suit.

“When it comes to strategic investments, the benefits for RCF and our portfolio companies are numerous and include the opportunity to establish a relationship and understanding of management teams in the very early stages of a project’s development,” said Peter.

“We also have a deep understanding of a variety of countries as an investment jurisdiction and can support a company’s strategy as their projects are advanced, including the challenges presented throughout exploration, development and funding options through to cash flow from production.”

“Some of our strategic investments made to date have allowed us to gain an understanding of operating in countries such as Russia, India, Cambodia and the UK; with RCF being the driving force behind the first hard rock metals mine development in England in 45 years.  That particular investment, Wolf Minerals Limited, started as a strategic investment into study work of US$1.8M and has resulted in an RCF investment of US$105M and the mine commissioning in late 2015.

Strategic investments remain an important part of the firm’s investment consideration process and remains committed to exploring investment opportunities regardless of initial size.  Since RCF I in 1998, RCF has consistently invested in mining companies throughout market cycles and operates the firm with integrity, discipline and a view to creating long term value for all stakeholders.

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Partner Profile, Pete Nicholson

Pete Nicholson is one of RCF’s seven partners and is responsible for running one of RCF’s two Perth deal teams.

I’ve spent thirteen years with RCF now and in my current capacity head up of one of our two Perth based deal teams. Each deal team is responsible for identifying and sourcing new investment opportunities as well as managing our existing investments and making sure the right communication is happening, funding time frames and expectations are met as well as completing technical due diligence and legal obligations as part of our investment process.

Our philosophy when it comes to managing our investments are a ‘cradle to grave’ responsibility, so that when you start out with an investment it’s your responsibility to facilitate it all the way through. We don’t have someone who sources, and then someone who executes and someone who manages, it stays with us the whole way. We do this because we don’t walk into a deal thinking ‘we’ve done our due diligence so we know everything’, we understand that it’s necessary to spend anywhere up to 12 months with a company before you really understand how they operate. We think that by having the same person involved the whole way through the process provides continuity and learning which can be built upon for a better outcome for all stakeholders.

 

Pete has an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Queensland and started his career as a graduate with Western Mining Corporation (WMC) before undertaking a variety of operations roles and later becoming the company’s Underground Manager at its Longshaft mine. At a subsequent role with Canadian based nickel producer LionOre at their Western Australian nickel project, Pete was responsible for constructing the mine and its infrastructure.

Starting out as a graduate at WMC, it was necessary to complete 12 months’ underground experience in order to obtain your first class mine manager’s ticket. This included haulage, handing explosives, drilling and mobile plant operator among other roles to provide a well-rounded understanding of the underground mine operations.

After the initial 12 months, I went on to become a production and ventilation engineer and later moved into different planning roles, then shift boss for a while before becoming the underground manager at Longshaft. When the operation was flagged for sale, I left to join Canadian company LionOre and as Registered Underground Manager had significant responsibility for construction and development of the Emily Ann nickel mine.  I was on site during the year it took to take the project from a set of feasibility documents through to production, overseeing construction and commissioning.

 

Having completed postgraduate study in applied finance, majoring in investment analysis and a diploma in financial planning, Pete joined RCF as an analyst in 2003. Pete credits the valuable experience gained in his underground mining roles with being able to provide cost savings and advice on efficiency to portfolio companies.

Pete: Using the underground experience I’ve gained, we were able to help an investment held in Peru optimize its operations by improving its processes to reduce costs and increase production. The company was an existing operator with a number of underground mines and were very good miners but were insulated and unaware of what was happening at a global level. Understanding mining at an operational level helps to quickly identify not only the practical issues and risks faced by companies, but also to recognize the opportunities available.

Ultimately RCF take the view that whilst our capital is the same as the next investors we hope to provide more than just dollars and the sensible question that should be asked by any company is ‘why should I take RCF’s dollars ahead of somebody else’s?’ The real differentiator is that our people have a unique skill set, we’ve been in mines and we’ve operated mines and can add value to our portfolio companies beyond simply providing funding.

As an organisation, RCF has held majority ownership in mines and assisted management in both set up and operation of mines, we really understand the industry and don’t get frightened by short term issues whether it be macro issues concerning commodity prices or foreign exchange rates or micro issues that are mine centric. We understand that it is helpful to have someone who has completed their due diligence and understand a good asset.  Rather than walk away from an issue we’ll work through it and use our global network in terms of other means of raising debt or equity and providing advice on the best approach. It’s our depth of experience across the financial and resources industry that really sets RCF apart.

 

During his time as Captain of the First Response Mines Rescue Team on site in Kambalda, Pete recognized the important contribution mining operations can make to the community in rural locations.

For eight years after I graduated, I worked across nine different mine sites, living both residentially and in a fly in fly out role. I recognize the importance of the provision of services to remote or rural communities that the development or presence of mining often brings. During my time living in Kambalda, I was the Captain of the First Response Mines Rescue Team. This involved providing emergency response not just for any incident on site but providing back up to the community’s emergency services. During this period, I was also a volunteer fire fighter and a qualified industrial ambulance officer.

I was lucky enough to meet my wife during my time in Kambalda. She is a geologist and was working as part of the exploration team at another site. Personally, I found that I preferred being residential over having a FIFO roster during my time working on site as a Mining Engineer. Living as part of the broader community has its advantages in terms of quality of lifestyle, although it is not always a possibility for some companies or locations.

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Interview with Ross Bhappu

Ross Bhappu is a Senior Partner of Resource Capital Funds and a specialist in metallurgical engineering and mineral economics. Ross spent time initially working on the operations side of mining before deciding that it was M&A activity in the mining sector that he was particularly passionate about.

I grew up in a little town in New Mexico and my exposure to the mining industry came from my father who was a college professor in metallurgical engineering. I think for most Americans, you rarely hear about mining in school as it’s only a small part of the U.S. economy, but I really enjoyed what my father did from the massive trucks and the shovels to the chemistry.

I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and studied metallurgical engineering in college at the University of Arizona. At the time I graduated, the job market was very weak so I decided to complete a master’s degree in metallurgy.  While in school, I worked for a copper mining company based in Tucson, Arizona where I met my wife. Early on in my career, I decided that I really loved the mining industry, but wanted to be more involved on the business side, so I went to the Colorado School of Mines where I completed a PhD in Mineral Economics.

 

Following university Ross went on to work for several resources companies in operations and business development capacities, including running a junior mining company which provided excellent groundwork for Ross’ career at RCF.

After graduating from the Colorado School of Mines, I worked for Cyprus Minerals Company for about seven years in various capacities.  Initially, I was part of the Planning and Economics group which served as an interface between the operations and corporate office.  It provided tremendous exposure to all aspects of the business.  I then joined the Smelter Project team where I was involved in the analysis of various smelting technologies, the decision to use a new state-of-the-art technology developed in Australia and then the feasibility study team for a new copper smelter.  I participated as a member of the construction team based in Miami, Arizona and after commissioning held various operating management roles before spending several years working at Newmont as a director of business development focusing on M&A activity globally.

I left Newmont after about seven years and was recruited to run a junior copper company with a development project in Arizona. This was a great learning experience, particularly when as we were completing the feasibility study, we discovered an endangered species on the property. We recognized that being a small company we wouldn’t have the capacity to mitigate the risks and implement a management plan so we decided to exit from the project.

It was around the same time that I had been talking to James McClements about RCF investing in our project when we ended up exiting.  As luck and timing would have it, RCF was just finishing raising RCF II and James invited me to join the RCF team around the beginning of 2001. While my primary focus was always deal focused, James got me actively involved in fundraising and investor relations early on and it’s still a big part of my role today.

 

The resources industry is often associated with high risk yet Ross explains that for RCF, these risks are scrupulously managed. Extensive research and analysis is undertaken to establish a complete understanding of all aspects of a mining project before an investment decision is made.  

Something my father stressed to me as a metallurgical engineer is that metallurgists make some of the best environmental engineers because you have a comprehensive understanding of geology and mineralogy. He explained that if you can understand how the mineral got there in the first place, then you can figure out how to recover it and manage any impurities to minimize any environmental impact. We have always been trained to not pollute and that you always have to be thinking about environmental aspects of a project so it is second nature when evaluating mining projects.

RCF not only provides financial support to our portfolio companies, but we also provide a source of valuable experience. I know from experience what it’s like to run a junior company, knowing that there were times that were very tough and money could be very tight. I think most of our portfolio companies really appreciate that RCF is able to bring that experience to the table.

 

Ross has been with RCF for almost 15 years now and has been involved in the mining sector for over  30 years.  Over the course of that time he has seen several fluctuations or cycles in the market. Ross provides some insight into the current market environment and the additional consequences of a market downturn.

When I joined RCF I think there were only five or six people in the firm, it was a tough time in the market and commodity prices were depressed. Similarly to the market then, the current market is tough too. It’s particularly difficult for junior mining companies to raise money.  The value of private equity is that we continue to invest in projects through good times and bad times with the recognition that this is a cyclical business and the market will improve – we have to be patient and supportive of our portfolio companies – an important characteristic that is valued by both our investors and portfolio companies.

One of the very difficult things that we see impacted by these downturns is the lack of support for education. When times are good mining companies support funding for mining related education, but when times are bad, this funding tends to dry up. RCF has continued to do its part to support education in mining by providing fellowships and financial support at a number of mining focused universities.

As with education,  one of the first things that companies cut when times are tough is exploration which results in a shortage of good quality projects in the pipeline for future mines. RCF has recently funded an exploration strategy to help support companies with exciting new mineral discoveries which we hope will lead to a pipeline of new mines in the future.

 

RCF has several key goals for both the short and long term, including why they’re important for the future of the business. Ross also shares what his experience with RCF has meant personally.

We’ve built a great reputation in the industry as an organization that pioneered the concept of private equity investing in mining, and we’ve built a template that we can grow on. The key for us is to ensure that we maintain a strong reputation by being thorough in our due diligence, attentive to ESG issues, maintaining investment discipline and with the ultimate goal being to provide strong returns to our investors. RCF has invested in a very strong team to manage our business and it is incumbent on our senior staff to instill this discipline on the next generation of managers.

On a personal level I would say that I have been very fortunate to be part of RCF and the mining industry. Three years ago my family was inspired to set up our own small family foundation.  Through this foundation, we support a number of causes including education for the next generation of mining professionals. Throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to travel extensively throughout the world and on many occasions take my family so we can all experience other cultures.  Seeing other parts of the world certainly makes us appreciate the life we have.

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Interview with RCF Senior Partner Russ Cranswick

Russ Cranswick is from British Columbia in Canada and had an extensive career in mineral exploration before joining RCF. Russ spent most of his early career working as a geologist on exploration projects in remote northern Canada. 

While growing up in a more rural area of southeast BC, as a teenager, I did yard work for a retired geologist who regaled me with old-timer tales and graciously sponsored me to attend university and study geology. He had no children of his own and perhaps saw my education as a gift back to the profession. I studied four straight years of geology and worked each summer for different companies to gain experience in a range of commodities, geological settings and geographies.

I worked in silver, gold and base metals at several different locations in northern BC and then a large reconnaissance program for gold that took me from the far northern Canadian city of Yellowknife to the Arctic Circle.  This area was then all within Canada’s Northwest Territories, but now some of it would be part of Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut. After I graduated, I worked in the Yukon on a gold project and other, mostly northern, exploration programs.

I then worked for Freeport McMoRan Gold Company, which was based in Vancouver and looking at assets across Canada. I rounded out my exploration career at Kennecott for about five years where I was back to northern Canada in base metals and helping acquire Kennecott/Rio Tinto’s initial 7.5 million acre diamond exploration land position during the Canadian diamond rush of the early 1990s.

 

After 10 years working in the field, Russ was introduced to the concept of a resource analyst role by David Thomas, who is now RCF Managing Director Canada, yet at the time had been a geologist and transitioned into a similar role as an analyst with a brokerage house.

By the time I was 30, I had spent much of the past decade working in the field which then, in Canada, meant you’re pretty much away six or seven months of the year for one to three months at a time, and was ready to be closer to home and family.

During a site visit in the eastern arctic of Canada, I ran into to David Thomas (now RCF Managing Director, Canada), who had been a field geologist and had shifted careers by becoming an analyst with a brokerage house. I wasn’t really aware that type of job progression was available and the idea of being able to use your mineral exploration skills and also a lot of financial analysis, yet be at home more of the time, really appealed to me. Within two months of this encounter, I had found a job as a mining analyst in Vancouver for a brokerage house.

It was around the same time that I first met Ryan Bennett on a field visit (it could have been the same one that I ran into Dave Thomas on) and he and another industry colleague introduced me to James McClements at a mining conference in the late 1990s.  We talked a bit about joining RCF near its inception, but it wasn’t until several years later, in 1999 when RCF II was being raised, that I joined RCF. The timing made sense as it was a downturn in the mining industry and slow on the junior company equity side, yet RCF was ramping up and actively investing. I contracted for six months, then my wife and I moved to Denver in mid-2000.

 

Russ has worked with RCF for 15 years now and has been linked to many of the transactions which have taken place during that time and throughout his career has made many industry connections around the world. Russ talks about being close to the work performed by the deal teams and the benefits that RCF brings to its portfolio companies.

‘Canada’, Compliance’ and ‘Trading/Market Research’  are technically my portfolios, but really it is about the transactions. As one of the Senior Partners, I am responsible for overseeing the entire portfolio and the range of investment teams, so I spend a lot of time in particular with our deal teams. I sit in their area and they’re regularly dropping in to talk about the history of a company or management team, and to discuss the process that they might go through for a nuanced transaction. Being able to provide real time input is important and certainly what I like being involved in.

With respect to the transactions, I like the creativity with which we structure deals and the personal connections that many of us have with people after many years spent in the industry.  I think the benefit for portfolio companies having RCF as a partner is multi-fold, given that a lot struggle, particularly these days, to obtain consistent, long term support. It may be that the market loves the company when the market is hot, but as soon as it is not, or the particular commodity is out of favor, they lose a lot of their investors overnight.

We can be comfortable with the investments that we make, partly because we take a lot of time and care to complete due diligence and get comfortable with the company’s assets.  When we invest, it is often a sizable position and, by the illiquid nature of that large position, we’re committed to sticking with the investment and working to help realize the company’s potential. This view is obviously in parallel with the company’s management team’s goals of advancing the asset, so we’re aligned as well as committed.

 

Over time, Russ has observed several changes in the market and industry dynamics and provides some insight on what he perceives to be the current market situation and how this impacts on RCF as well as work that Russ is doing personally to support the next generation of resources industry professionals.

We’ve certainly seen a lot of the industry players change quite dramatically over time. Funds that may have invested significantly a few years ago don’t exist now, and ones that still exist may have had a high turnover of people. On the other hand, the RCF team has been pretty consistent throughout the past 15 to 20 years, which is certainly one of our strengths.

People know where to find us and they know the types of transactions that we do and I think they’re often quite pleasantly surprised when there’s always another suite of things that we can do that they weren’t aware of or we haven’t done to date; we’ve more or less created something to suit their situation. Preconceived ideas of what we are or what we do can probably slow the process down and management teams often don’t appreciate RCF’s value-add until after the fact.

In the current market, I think there’s a good opportunity in the fact that we’ve consistently been a mining focused private equity firm. It has been nice to see the measured growth – we have grown quite a bit over time, but it’s always been measured. It’s as much about the people as what they can do when we hire and build groups. The people have always been important and still are. We’ve got a good culture and it makes us all want to come to work each day.

In addition, the JP Morgan Center for Commodities is something that the Dean of the University of Colorado Denver business school approached me and a few other industry colleagues about several years ago. Created with the goal of becoming the global leader in commodities research and education, I joined the Center’s advisory council at its inception and it is great to see it growing and gathering some momentum.  Denver is a natural location to foster collaboration between academics and professionals from the agriculture, energy and mining sectors.

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Investing in Northern Canada’s Nunavut Territory

Resource Capital Funds has had a long held interest in northern Canada and the Nunavut region, having held several successful investments in the area. In particular, some of the attributes that make the region an attractive investment proposition include its highly prospective geology, world class deposits, commodity diversity, shipping in close proximity to some projects and populations near, but not in immediate proximity to projects. It is also a jurisdiction that welcomes and readily facilitates investment in resources.

To date, RCF has invested $265 million, or approximately 10% of the funds that it has invested since inception, in Nunavut to support four key projects – Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation’s Mary River high grade and direct shipping iron ore project on Baffin Island, Comaplex Minerals Corp.’s Meliadine gold project near Rankin Inlet, Cumberland Resources Ltd.’s Meadowbank gold project north of Baker Lake and TMAC/Miramar’s Hope Bay gold project south of Cambridge Bay.  RCF’s substantial investments in each project were provided to advance assets through feasibility, bulk sampling, permitting and/or project financing stages.

Each investment faced its owned challenges from fickle equity markets to challenging joint venture arrangements yet ultimately became examples which demonstrate how RCF’s flexible funding and long term investment approach help to achieve positive outcomes. All of the four projects were later taken over by mid-tier and major companies in $3.5 billion worth of acquisitions.  Fortunately, the Hope Bay project is once again in the hands of a junior company, TMAC Resources, and is fully funded to build the region’s next significant gold mine.

Key achievements which resulted from RCF investments made in Nunavut include less dilutive bridge loans, greater investor confidence, improved communication and, in the instance of the Cumberland Resources and TMAC investments, the private equity advantage for the companies was a cornerstone shareholder when they were financing their mine development.

In each of the four opportunities, RCF was able to see beyond the market valuation of the day to provide long-term and stable funding, which is always important in fluctuating markets and volatile project dynamics. For more information on RCF’s investments in Canada please contact RCF’s office in Toronto.

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Interview with Ryan Bennett, a Resource Capital Fund Senior Partner

Ryan Bennett is one of Resource Capital Funds Senior Partners and has been with the firm since its inception in 1998.  Ryan specializes in managing technical risks in mining projects yet started his career as an exploration geologist.

My interest in economic geology and mining started in my early youth as our family often traveled to Colorado from Wisconsin for vacation.  Colorado, with its diverse geology and rich mining history piqued my interest in these subject areas leading me to pursue an undergraduate degree in geological engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and ultimately a master’s degree in mining engineering at Colorado School of Mines, thus satisfying both of my interests academically.

My early career reflects my academic pursuits, starting as an exploration geologist in Alaska and working at the now defunct United States Bureau of Mines on strategic minerals projects.

I later worked as a consultant to Caterpillar before receiving a fellowship from NM Rothschild & Sons funding my master’s degree and providing an internship in 1992 to work in their newly established office in Denver.  That internship led to full time employment in their project finance team in a technical role and the opportunity to spend time in a similar role in their Sydney office from 1993 to 1995.  It was in Sydney that I first had the opportunity to work with James McClements, following him back to Denver to oversee technical due diligence for the many project opportunities that were being identified by a more aggressive marketing approach to the junior mining sector.

Ryan transitioned from Rothschild’s to Resource Capital Funds in 1998.  He notes both the markets similarities between then and now and also the differences experienced as the firm has grown over almost two decades.

Early days were very interesting given the market environment at the time, which isn’t dissimilar to where we are today.  The equity markets were not very supportive of the industry and we had a very small fund (RCF I, $41 million), that was principally devoted to funding feasibility studies.  Being part of a small team of three, we got to see and do everything, getting involved with projects around the world representing multiple mineral commodities.

My role today has evolved since the early days, although technical risk management remains a key element.  Today I oversee a technical team which has grown from one person to a team of many specialists including geologists, a metallurgist, a mineral processing engineer, and our project management group.  Within the technical team we also have an individual focused on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues, a very important role today given the challenges developers face in these areas.  We plan to further build the team to also include a mining engineer which will compliment the rest of the technical skills within the team.

For Ryan and Resource Capital Funds, it is the ability to effectively evaluate and mitigate risk that makes the firm a leader in the mining industry.  Ryan explains that their risk management focus is broad based encompassing all risks faced by the industry.

Risks within the mining industry are quite broad based including legal, political, commercial, technical and environmental. Our success is being able to proactively identify, mitigate, and manage those risks.  Risk management is ultimately our livelihood.  My focus, along with our technical team, is to really dwell on those key technical risks, such as resource and reserves, mining, metallurgy, and project development as well as ESG considerations.  RCF has been quite progressive in this space, with its technical specialists addressing key project development challenges in order to add value to portfolio companies.

RCF has recently allocated a portion of RCF VI to exploration.  Its not that we haven’t had exposure to exploration before, but now we are looking at pure exploration plays.  We see significant value here as little exploration dollars are being expended and the public equity markets are unsupportive.  From a risk management perspective, exploration presents a different risk profile.  It is definitely higher risk, the probability of exploration being successful has always been low, but with a properly structured, well diversified portfolio, exploration risk can be managed.  It is exciting, with the addition of exploration to the fund, we are now covering the entire mine development spectrum from early stage exploration all the way through developing and operating assets.

After almost two decades with Resource Capital Funds, Ryan has experienced first-hand the benefits the firm brings to its portfolio companies.  In addition to being a patient investor Ryan talks about the value of Resource Capital Funds deep technical and operational experience. 

The most obvious benefit for the companies that we invest in is that we are patient capital.  The public equity markets tend not to be.  Mining project development takes time, it just doesn’t happen overnight.  If I look at some of the great successes that we have had, it is only because we were supportive and patient investors.

We see value creation through developing projects.  Often management teams come to us and they don’t have a team with the full skill set available to them to be able to take the project through development.  It is being able to work with the company to help build or enhance the team that puts the company in a position where they’re going to be a successful project developer.

We often see ourselves acting as a catalyst, bringing together a development ready project and the appropriate project finance.  Often the project financier has been unsuccessful in prior projects due to cost overruns and weak equity sponsors.  Our focus on appropriate project management is designed to mitigate the completion risk.  If issues do arise, as they sometimes do, we are there to be the strong equity sponsor so that the project financier can take comfort in knowing that the project will be completed.

Because of the cyclical nature of the mining industry, academic departments servicing the industry are often challenged.  Ryan is passionate about the human resource issues faced by companies and participates in university advisory committees for the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Wisconsin.

It is difficult to allocate faculty and resources to a department that might have 100 or more students in an up cycle but 10 in a down turn.  We recognize that the success of the mining industry and ultimately RCF will be dependent on a stream of well-qualified graduates.

We work with a number of key resource based academic institutions providing financial support to students as well as internships within RCF, not dissimilar to my support from Rothschild early in my career.  It has been great to see the caliber of students coming from these institutions.  The concern is whether it will continue if proper support is not provided to academia.  This is one of the issues that I have been able to consider sitting on the advisory committees.  How can industry work with academia to provide a sustainable education program that can not only withstand the cycles but provide a relevant candidate in an evolving environment?  While we don’t have all of the answers yet, certainly commitment is needed from industry to assure that it has a consistent supply of new graduates.  If we don’t, we will see the gap between senior and junior professionals continue to grow.  We want to see consistently well qualified people entering the mining industry, appropriately managing risks and sustaining the industry for a successful future.

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RCF’s Expertise Available to Portfolio Companies During Key Development Phases
Allan Brownrigg, Senior Project Director

Cost and schedule overruns have long plagued the mining industry affecting both major and junior mining companies. With this in mind, plus the strategy of Resource Capital Fund VI L.P. (“RCF VI”) to develop construction ready projects, RCF added project management professionals to its Technical Services team to focus on assessing projects during the feasibility study phase, and support companies during the execution phase.

Although many Owner companies produce feasibility reports they often fail to be complete, concise and correct. Guidelines such as by the Association for Advancement of Cost Engineering International (AACEI) are known by many consultants, and spell out the degree of work that must be completed to satisfy a robust study.

Among the failure factors affecting the quality of reports, with respect to the Owner:

  • The agenda may be to display the asset for immediate sale;
  • It does not possess sufficient funds to pursue an industry standard study;
  • The project team responsible for the study is incapable or inexperienced in selecting and then managing the study consultants.

Typically RCF encounters deficiencies in freezing of the project scope; geotechnical studies for water management, plant and infrastructure locations; basic engineering progress; estimating; scheduling; Operations Readiness; Project Execution Plan; and Risk Register. Using experience and benchmarking RCF is able to quantify and distribute cost and schedule ranges in its Financial Model to ascertain the project’s health.

At the time of project funding RCF continues to follow the detailed engineering, procurement, construction and start-up activities during the execution phase. As a minimum a monthly report and a Project Steering Committee are established with the Owner project team. Site visits are also conducted as required.

Among the failure factors affecting the success of the project execution:

  • Scope creep after the feasibility is issued
  • Site access, community and permitting issues
  • Geotechnical surprises
  • Weak Owner project team

Although RCF has extensive in-house expertise it also employs known consultants to ensure quality due diligence of the study resulting in an informed investment decision. In many cases the decision is to invest for a period of time wherein the study is de-risked and improved, frequently with RCF in-house and consultant resources assisting the Owner project team. This working with the Owner project team continues throughout the construction phase in tracking key performance indicators to obtain the best project outcomes for the Owner.

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Interview with Chris Corbett

Chris Corbett is a Principal at RCF who is responsible for leading one of the firm’s deal teams. Before joining RCF, Chris’ early career was predominately field based as an engineer in country Australia, learning from hands on experience alongside operators.

I’ve always enjoyed solving problems but it was a BHP Science Award and a trip to BHP’s Newman iron ore operations that set me on the engineering path.  I finished school and enrolled in a combined Engineering and Commerce degree, commerce-based on advice from my parents, at the University of Western Australia (UWA). I graduated five years later with first-class honors in Mechanical Engineering and a purposely broad commerce degree with a major in general management and a minor in strategic management.

As a graduate engineer you can either go into a graduate program with a major company, join a consultant and crunch some numbers, or you get your hands dirty on site. It was the latter that appealed to me because I wanted a solid practical foundation as a complement to my tertiary qualifications. I had completed some vacation work with Byrnecut, one of Australia’s largest underground mining contractors, and was offered a role once I graduated.  It wasn’t long before I was on a plane to Mount Isa, Queensland to work as a project engineer on the M62 shaft project, a 715m deep internal shaft sink and associated haulage system fit out that started almost 1km underground.

I really enjoyed working in a small team delivering a key project on the critical path and was fortunate to be surrounded by some very experienced operators. I learned a great deal from them as a result (both technically and commercially) and was fortunate to be given a lot of responsibility early on.

Chris gained further experience both technically and academically whilst working as a mining engineer, before looking to change lanes from engineering to mining finance.

Toward the end of the project I was tasked with writing a technical paper on the delivery of the project and presented it to Byrnecut’s majority owner, Thyssen Schachtbau, in Germany which was great experience and a lot of fun. Not long after, I relocated from Mount Isa back to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia in a maintenance support and commercial analyst role.  At the time we were looking at improving some of the reporting systems so plenty of analytical work.  While in Kalgoorlie, I completed a Graduate Diploma in Mining at the Western Australian School of Mines (WASM) to add formal technical qualifications to the mining engineering knowledge I’d gained on site.

My work with Byrnecut took me as far as Portugal on a due diligence trip for a client led by a mining engineer turned investment banker. In hindsight, it was a pivotal moment for me since the more I listening to this guy speak, the more I realised that by staying in a focused engineering capacity I wasn’t likely to be exposed to the funding related decisions around a mining business. I felt like I was missing out on part of what I wanted to be doing.

I resigned from Byrnecut soon after and spent a few months working for an engineering consultant in Perth but I was more interested in breaking into a finance-orientated role.  I remember spending most lunch breaks arranging and taking meetings with finance professionals seeking advice and contacts and this ultimately resulted in a job offer from Wesfarmers Business Development as a Financial Analyst (and more study – I completed a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance and Investment). I was fortunate to work with some very commercially astute people who were also great teachers. We evaluated at many different types of businesses in a range of sectors including agriculture, mining, retail and energy. It was a great opportunity and gave me a solid grounding in business generally whilst developing my understanding of detailed commercial practices through being involved in competitive tender processes, providing financial analysis to support business cases, negotiating term sheets and solving commercial issues.

An opportunity with RCF came up during Chris’ time back in Perth. Chris provided some insight into the dynamics of his team and the benefits RCF brings to the portfolio companies it invests in.

I bumped into James McClements (RCF Managing Partner) around seven years ago at a leadership course and was later offered a role. The focus was specifically mining (compared to the broader focus at Wesfarmers) and I felt like I was back in my element then two years ago I started leading one of the investment teams. When it comes to leadership everyone has a different style, my style is collegiate and practical which comes from experience working on site and at Wesfarmers. We employ very intelligent and motivated people and I trust my guys to deliver on the aspects of a deal under their watch, with me it’s a team effort.

When it comes to what RCF brings to portfolio companies, I believe one of the biggest benefits is our patience and the longevity of the funds. We buy into business strategies and support management teams to successfully deliver. People might say ‘everyone says that’, but we’ve got the track record that differentiates ourselves from other players in the market. Mining is a cyclical environment, a lot of investors simply walk away when markets turn or sit on their hands. We not only see these markets as an opportunity to make new investments but also to support existing portfolio companies to take advantage of the conditions.  Portfolio companies also get access to our experienced team of technical professionals around the world which can have great financial and operational benefits.

I see RCF as having the flexibility to adapt quickly as market conditions change. If we see a quality asset for a commodity with interesting market dynamics we can take the long term view and support its development. Often public markets can’t, so we bridge the gap acting as a catalyst to execute on deals and create long term value. This flexibility and patience leads to the development of some different and complex projects that might not otherwise be able to secure all the necessary pieces of the funding puzzle. With Wolf (Wolf Minerals), I’m watching the first new metals mine in the last 45 years being built in the UK, which is a direct result of this approach.

James_McClements

Interview with James McClements

RCF Managing Partner James McClements co-founded the firm in 1998 with a vision to enable resources development through private equity participation. Today he maintains a strong passion for the mining and resources industry which began during a childhood spent in the Pilbara.

 “My family moved from Perth to the town of Dampier in the Pilbara in 1968 which set the scene for what would ultimately become an extensive career in mining and resources. The family (all six of us, my parent and my three siblings) moved to Newman in 1975 where I completed high school before beginning my professional career with a BHP Limited traineeship that allowed me to complete an Honours degree in Economics at the University of Western Australia (UWA), which was certainly instrumental in setting me on my career path.”

“During and post University, I worked for BHP primarily at its Mt Whaleback iron ore operations in Newman, where some early entrepreneurial inclination saw me invest in what became a successful video store venture. Moving on from there I spent time travelling around Australia before returning to Perth where I worked in merchant banking at Standard Chartered Bank. Eager for a challenge and to test myself in a bigger market, I accepted a role in Sydney with NM Rothschild & Sons as an analyst in the mining project finance group. In Sydney I also met my wife, Meredith, also from humble Australian country origins.”

“Rothschild was a great environment and training ground to be involved with pre project finance mezzanine style loans. This played to my desire to be exposed to transactions with a greater perceived risk but with corresponding return potential. It was at this time I met Hank Tuten who was heading to the US to run Rothschild in North America after successfully leading and developing Rothschild in Australia and was asked by him to join the Denver office where the relationship continued to build. Hank informally became a mentor to me that ultimately led to a conversation in 1997 that became the catalyst for the creation of RCF.”

After time spent working at Rothschild with Hank Tuten, the pair had identified an untapped opportunity in the resources sector. Over the next year, the first fund was raised and the concept that is now RCF began to take shape. 

 “By 1997 the investment orientation had begun to change at Rothschild, adjusting to suit its preferred environment and reduce the level of risk on their balance sheet. This essentially was one of the catalysts for my discussions with Hank about how we could continue doing some of the business and transactions that Rothschild had been doing at the time but was  now pulling back from. Sitting down with Hank in Vancouver in September 1997, having previously discussed the concept of RCF and private equity, we looked at how to raise pools of capital to financially support mining companies through the engineering study phases of their projects. Hank and I began to map out what would become Resource Capital Funds.”

“The backing and ownership of RCF by Rothschild was critical in getting the initial meetings we needed and opened doors to attract investors. We started fundraising in early 1998 with an initial close in May 1998 which allowed us to make our first investment while fund raising continued until early 1999. In the end we raised $41 million, slightly short of our $50 million target from primarily six very brave investors that still largely remain with us today.”

“We were well advanced in raising our second fund in 2000 when circumstances at Rothschild changed even further and they chose to exit the private equity business. So three of us; Hank, me, and another of Hank’s team in New York, spun Resource Capital Funds off from Rothschild to become Management owned.”

RCF was gaining momentum in its own right and the firm’s reputation as a specialist in mining and a strategic partner was forged as new funds were established.  

“We raised $82 million in our second fund over 12 to 18 months while completing the spin off from Rothschild with a final close of RCF II in June 2001.”

“RCF has since prospered as an independent firm, having raised its sixth fund in 2013 with committed capital of $2.04 billion. The senior management group, several who worked together at Rothschild, continues to lead the organization and as a firm we are also very consciously looking to develop our own team. We hire very bright people with a passion for the industry and we go a long way in nurturing them to develop the skills necessary to be successful as investors in the minerals and mining sector. If external people engage with RCF we hope their takeaways are that they’re not only impressed with the depth and skill of the team but also our passion for the industry, which isn’t going to change.”

“The leadership team, in many instances, has been involved in the mining industry for over 30 years and experienced many mining commodity and public equity cycles.”

“Going back to the early 1980s while at university and working during summers up in Newman, I recall it was a very tough time for the iron ore industry with very low iron ore prices and the industry going through significant structural changes. The industry is a cyclical business and those that have been through the cycles appreciate that you’ve got to be patient and you need to take the long term view. With this in mind we look to work with companies with good assets and good people and we support them even when the times are tough.”

With RCF now investing its sixth fund valued at more than $2 billion, James and his wife, Meredith, are passionate about making opportunities available for others through their philanthropic efforts.   They have spent some time and resources assisting local educational and other Australian institutions.   

“For us, philanthropy generally came about through the nature of our limited partners and the exposure I have had to them over time. We’re dealing with very large endowments, foundations and charitable trusts in the US and one of the very positive aspects about a firm like RCF is if we’re successful, we’re actually supporting a lot of great underlying causes.”

“I certainly remain interested in supporting the development of new businesses and the other interests we have are orientated towards supporting a range of educational institutions. If I look back at my career it was the scholarships and traineeships that have helped me along the way. So we want to find ways to recognize that we have benefited from others generosity and feel that there’s a responsibility to do the same. At the end of the day Meredith and I, enjoy doing that.”