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Interview with RCF Partner and Investment Team Leader, Mason Hills

Mason Hills is a Partner and Investment Team Leader at RCF. Mason is originally from Perth, Western Australia, and started his career in law

I studied economics at the University of Western Australia before going on to do a graduate law degree at Murdoch University.

After graduating, I went to work for a commercial law firm focused on practicing in corporate and securities law, and project financing, in the resources sector. While I was there, I spent a year working at the Federal Court of Australia as an associate to a Judge. When I returned from working with the Judge, I continued my career in the project finance section of the law firm until 1999.

In 1999, myself and one of the partners of the law firm at the time, decided to start our own practice with a focus on project finance, and we acted predominantly for borrowers and smaller lenders.

Mason has advised RCF since 1999 and joined in an in-house capacity in 2006

In 1999, a year after RCF’s founding and the launch of its first fund, RCF I, the organization was actively pursuing investments in Australia. I already had a relationship with some of the principals of RCF from my previous firm, so when they required legal work in Australia, it was a natural fit. So from 1999 until 2006, I worked as outside counsel for RCF.

In 2006, I joined RCF as their in-house lawyer in Australia. While my role was primarily legal work, my prior business relationships and established contacts in the Australian mining industry started to approach me about potential investment deals RCF could become involved with, and I found myself actively involved in leading transactions rather than doing pure legal work.

I was fortunate to be made a partner in 2009, and my focus changed dramatically from legal work to managing investments and the investment process.

Mason works on a number of deals and looks at 2-3 new opportunities on a weekly basis for RCF

As an investment team leader, I am generally responsible for 4-5 material transactions and a number of smaller transaction deals in my portfolio that I manage with my team on a day to day basis. They are the core transactions we work on. At present within those core transactions, there are two projects which have required greater team bandwidth just due to the size and complexity of them, and the work load required.

In my team we have four people – two Canadians, a Kiwi (New Zealander) and me, an Australian – all working out of the Denver office.

Regarding new projects, as a team, we look at and evaluate roughly two to three new opportunities on a weekly basis.

Mason has travelled extensively in order to oversee deal projects

There is a large amount of travelling involved with my role. I would estimate I travel around four to five months of the year. I do go back to Perth two to three times a year as RCF has an office there, and this works out well as I still have a lot of family in Perth. I also spend a fair amount of time in London, especially due to the fact that the Alufer Mining Bel Air project, a project I am currently working on, has its management team based there.

In 2012 Mason moved to the RCF office in Denver, Colorado, together with his family

In 2012, RCF thought it would be a good idea if I spent a couple of years in Denver. I moved over with my kids and enrolled them in school over here, and luckily they love it!

The lifestyle and the environment are great, and it is a good place to live. My kids enjoy their school, and my eldest daughter has just started college at Colorado University Boulder. Recently, there has been a large migration of people moving to Denver, and the city has significantly expanded. A lot of people move to Denver for the lifestyle, for the mountains, skiing and the hiking during the summer. The present intention for us is definitely to stay here.

Being involved in mining means I am often involved in a new project in an undeveloped region.  New developments touch many aspects of the communities nearby – and often provide better quality infrastructure for them (like roads, education and healthcare) – and sometimes in ways that can’t be measured with economic statistics.  I find it very rewarding being part of that process – and I take a deep interest in assisting the local communities that our projects impact.

 

 

 

Jeff Mills, Global Head of Investor Relations at RCF

Interview with RCF Managing Director, Global Head of Investor Relations, Jeff Mills

Jeff Mills is a Managing Director at RCF and Global Head of Investor Relations. Jeff joined in May 2016 and is responsible for managing the communication with all of RCF’s investors.

I knew RCF to be a leading firm in the private equity space through a number of different limited partner relationships; and when I learned about the company’s desire to have its first Investor Relations professional, I jumped at the opportunity. I had previously worked in a number of third party and in-house marketing roles, and the thought of building up an Investor Relations group in a formalised fashion, was what attracted me to join and to take on the role.

Jeff’s day to day role involves interacting with more than 100 investors from different geographies, with the majority based in North America, some in Europe and in Asia.

I am responsible for all client interactions between RCF and its investors. The conversations held with investors cover a variety of topics including RCF’s current portfolio and understanding the information needs of our investors. The ultimate goal is helping our limited partners by making their interactions with RCF efficient and informative.

My expertise is in private equity investor relations and although I wasn’t that familiar with the mining industry before joining RCF, I must say that I have found it an invigorating challenge to be working with the team here. The resources industry has a key role in the economy and in the world more broadly and the expression “It’s either mined or grown” is very accurate. Every single day we are using something that has been mined. This is probably intuitive for someone in Australia, where we have our Perth office, but it’s not necessarily so to someone based in North America.

With the new role in place at RCF, Investor Relations has a more centralized function now.

Before I joined RCF, the Investor Relations role was primarily managed by James McClements, Ross Bhappu and other colleagues. It was a shared function across a number of people and RCF wisely decided that they needed a person to handle this on a regular basis and in a more formulaic manner. By creating this role for me, RCF now has a centralized function and I like to think that I have brought some fresh ideas on how to interact with investors.

Jeff has travelled extensively during the last eight months in order to meet with a broad number of RCF’s Limited Partners.

During the last eight months I have been travelling to meet with our investors and to better understand how we can work with them and help answer all their questions and needs. I have been working on a number of really interesting projects over the last year and engaging with all our investors, taking the opportunity to share the RCF story and explaining how we are working to source portfolio companies and create value for them. As we are private equity focused, the commitment from investors is over a number of years and not just a short term investment opportunity. All of our investors are here for the medium to long term which we believe makes us a more attractive source of capital. Given the term of commitment from our investors, open and frequent engagement and communication is key.

In terms of other mining private equity funds, there are only a handful.

There definitely aren’t many private equity firms that specialize in mining, especially relative to more traditional PE firms. I expect that this will change overtime as funds that specialize in mining become more common practice. However, this shows that there is an opportunity to help with educational engagements with the investor community explaining what mining focused private equity is, how we do it and why it works for portfolio companies.

The people and the technical expertise is what sets RCF apart

Since joining, what was immediately clear from the start was the great group of people at RCF. Everyone has a very positive attitude, wanting to help grow and develop the portfolio companies. As a new member of the team, I was immediately drawn towards the open, collegial environment and the culture here.

In my view people make a significant difference in a business, especially in both mining and private equity. The team at RCF has the right perspective about working hard and keeping key stakeholders needs at the forefront of their mind. This is the biggest differentiator across the board of any organization.

It’s also great to see colleagues who are really passionate about what they do. My colleagues are specialists, many are engineers, geologists, metallurgists or other mining specialists; they are experts by nature, in fact some are so passionate about mining they not only do it as a job but also in their spare time as a hobby. There are many people in the firm who work Monday to Friday and then spend their Saturday and Sunday looking for new projects and checking out different rock samples. Mining is a genuine passion here.

Prior to joining RCF in May 2016, Jeff held positions in fundraising and client services at various private equity firms.

I had been working in a role similar to this one for the last 15 years. I have worked with groups that started from investment banks to third party marketing firms. I was recently the Managing Director at Brooklands Capital Strategies, a division of TPG and Ares Management. Prior to that, I was the Head of Investor Relations and Marketing at Oak Hill Capital, and I started in the industry at global investment bank Probitas Partners.

I have worked in a variety of functions doing both primary, secondary and structured transactions, portfolio updates and client services, and I now have the chance to transfer some of this knowledge gained into my current role.

Jeff holds a B.S. degree in Mathematical Economics from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an M.B.A from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. After graduating from the United States Military Academy, he served in the United States Army as an aviation officer.

The Army is, of course, somewhat different from private equity but there are so many similarities to Investor Relations. Investor Relations is very much about clear communication, being disciplined and organised and always putting others’ needs ahead of yours. Many of these skills are very common in the army and they are certainly well suited in Investor Relations.

Jeff has lived in various cities and met his wife during his time in the army. They now have two kids and are based temporarily in San Francisco.

I am from Western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh. I was raised there and then went to university in New York. I then spent seven years in the US army and was stationed in New York, Alabama, South Korea, Colorado, Arizona and then Kentucky and Tennessee. While stationed in Colorado I met my wife — that’s our family connection to Colorado outside of RCF’s Denver office.

I have two sons who keep me very busy, one is 13 and the other one is 10. We spend a lot of time together, supporting them in their sports and hobbies, which is what I really enjoy doing in my spare time.

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Interview with RCF Managing Director Canada, Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas is a Partner and Managing Director of RCF’s Toronto office. He joined RCF in 2010 and was tasked with establishing the office and building RCF’s in-country presence.

Toronto is considered one of the key global mining finance hubs. On the heels of closing RCF V, RCF’s senior management believed that the timing was right to establish a Canadian branch head and that it made sense to hit the ground running by hiring someone with a deep understanding of the local market and with an established network within the mining industry. I was at a point in my career where, after spending the previous 16 years in investment banking, the idea of acting more as an owner of investments rather than as a middle man, connecting buyers with sellers, was an attractive proposition.

After coming on board in 2010, I was tasked with setting up an office in Toronto. Sourcing space in a new building that was a bare concrete shell in an area that was considered, literally, “on the wrong side of the tracks”, I worked with the architect and designers to come up with a modern space that would suit our needs for the coming years. From touring the furniture factory, purchasing and hanging artwork and buying the coffee maker, I got us up and running in under four months. It was great fun!   Fast forward to today and we have just expanded our square footage by half and added a fourth person to the office. We are also a “home away from home” for the many RCF people who visit Toronto regularly to meet with mining company management teams, attend board meetings or participate in conferences. Having a comfortable work space while in Toronto is important for our team, given how much time we collectively spend on the road each year.

  

Dave started out as an exploration geologist working in northern Canada. When the opportunity presented itself, he moved into the mining investment world and pursued a career as an equities analyst and subsequently in institutional sales.

In keeping with a common RCF theme, my background is on the technical side of the mining industry. I actually got my start as a field assistant in a remote corner of northern Ontario when I was still in high school. This experience of spending the summer outdoors as part of a team confirmed my desire to pursue undergraduate and graduate geology degrees followed by a career in mineral exploration.

Following 10 years of gold, copper and zinc exploration in northern Canada, I was offered an opportunity to move to the investment side of the mining industry, working as a geologist for a Vancouver, BC-based investment bank. Although I was hired for my ability to interpret exploration results, I was fascinated by valuation and investment evaluation, which led me to a career as a gold analyst. Over the next seven years I covered a variety of large and small Canadian gold companies which involved numerous visits to projects around the world. I then transitioned into institutional equity sales, culminating with a specialty mining sales role at one of Canada’s bank-owned investment dealers.

When RCF contacted me, I possessed only a rudimentary understanding of private equity, as most of my clients were mutual, pension and hedge funds. However, I was intrigued by the role on offer because it enabled me to get back to my technical “roots” in a manner that wasn’t possible in my sales role. I was attracted to RCF’s “patient capital” approach to investing whereby short-term market fluctuations are less important than longer-term trends. I was also impressed by the wealth of mining experience at RCF, the overt professionalism and the deep commercial knowledge within the organization. Combined with the attraction of being an owner of investments rather than an intermediary, I graciously accepted RCF’s offer to join the team.

 

RCF Toronto plays an important role in deal generation and deal making within RCF

 Working with my colleague Philip du Toit, the main goal of our two-person hunting team is to originate opportunities that fit within RCF’s investment mandates. We do this through our extensive network of mining, investment banking and consulting contacts, participating in conferences, and running screens on various data sources. Once we’ve identified an opportunity, we will conduct a “red flag” analysis and determine potential investment returns. Satisfied that the opportunity is suitable, we socialize the idea internally, resulting in allocation to the appropriate investment team. Although we stay involved throughout the due diligence process, detailed work that may involve utilizing the internal resources of our Technical Services team and possibly that of outside consultants is managed by the Investment Team, freeing us up to look for the next opportunity.

Leon Binedell is also based out of the Toronto office and engages with management and finance professionals at our portfolio companies globally. His role is to help build and support high quality business processes within our portfolio companies.

 

RCF was the first mining private equity fund to open in Toronto

 Despite Toronto’s importance in mining finance, besides RCF there is only one other mining private equity fund with an office here. I find this a bit odd, given the number of mining companies based in Toronto as well as the number of companies headquartered elsewhere which pass through Toronto, scouring the globe for capital. The city’s mining ecosystem is immense and an important part of the business landscape. A multitude of engineering, legal and accounting firms rely heavily on our industry as a significant revenue source. The large pool of qualified mining and investment professionals adds to the attraction.  Yet, the bulk of mining private equity funds are based elsewhere, including New York, London and Sydney, close to their investors.  I suspect that as the mining private equity sector grows and matures, other firms with establish offices in Toronto but by then RCF will have had a significant head start!

 

RCF is committed to investing in Canada

By opening a Toronto office, RCF signalled its long-term commitment to the Canadian mining industry. In addition to our physical presence, we maintain our profile in the community by speaking at conferences, participating in industry associations such as the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) and the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (CIM), and supporting several universities that are grooming the next generation of mining leaders. We also volunteer our time on various industry association committees. Canadian companies are active within the country and around the world, with RCF playing a role in funding numerous projects. Canada represents a significant portion of our allocated capital and I see this continuing based on the opportunities we are seeing in the marketplace. Although in recent years our industry has weathered a challenging investment environment, it would appear that early 2016 was the nadir. Since then, metal prices have rebounded and capital is flowing back into the sector. RCF is as excited as ever by the prospects of working with companies in advancing and developing their projects.

 

Dave was born 25 miles from where he now lives and works about 10 miles from where he was born. Dave feels privileged to have been able to pursue a varied career in an industry that he is passionate about and also be able to raise his family so close to his childhood home.

We are fortunate to be part of such a terrific industry, an industry that attracts talented, committed and ethical individuals in the pursuit of mineral resources. Mining is a truly global industry yet at the same time I am always amazed by its interconnectedness. There are few industries where former university colleagues working as summer students in northern Ontario bump into each other again in Santiago thirty years later and pick up the conversation like it was yesterday! When I speak with university students who are considering a mining career, I always cite the high quality people within the industry as the top reason why so many of us stay in the sector our entire professional lives.

On a personal note, although I’ve travelled the world visiting more than 50 countries and living across Canada, today I live a short train ride away from where I was born. My wife and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in 2017 as well as seeing off the eldest of our two teenagers to university. As you’d expect from a geologist, my hobbies focus on spending as much time outdoors as possible. Hiking, cycling, sea kayaking and photography are at the top of the list of activities that my wife and I enjoy together. I am active on the Human Resources Development Committee of the PDAC and especially enjoy speaking with students who have an interest in pursuing careers in mining and mining finance.

 

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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.

Ross_Bhappu

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.

TMAC

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.

Ryan_Bennett

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.