Most mines engage consultants. Even the largest mines do not find it practical or economic to keep permanently on staff people to do those special, one-off projects that lead to new mines, efficient operation of existing mines, or close mines with a skeleton staff. Most mines needs the expertise that consultants have, but which it is just not necessary for the mining company to keep in-house. Examples of consultants include the specialized exploration geologist, financial planners for a take-over bid, geotechnical/tailings engineers for the design or expansion of a tailings facility, planners to compile closure documents, or regulatory experts to secure new permits.
I have always thought of the ideal consultant as the person who is a leader in their field, who knows more than the average, who can produce a document faster and more cost-effectively, or who is just more fun to work with than normal. I do know individual consultants who are most successful, not because they are nice, but because they are damn good. In fact some of the most successful individual consultants I know have been rather exasperating to work for and with. But they produce and produce in all circumstances.
Today in discussion with a staff person on the mine I am visiting as a consultant, I was accosted by a criterion for selecting a consultant that I have not hitherto come across. This is what was said to me: “Our company likes to hire consultants, companies of consultants, who can bring continuity and a collective memory of our mine to bear on the project. We avoid those one-man consulting organizations where the guy could die and leave us with nobody to take over.”
Being a good consultant, I did not argue the point. But I was intrigued enough to write this blog posting. By this criterion only the large companies qualify–those companies of hundreds of people, all interchangeable over time. But immediately I realized those big companies are most often changing faster than the small companies. Big consulting companies to the mining industry have become no more than pawns in the larger financial game of growing bigger by take-over, not by providing better, long-term-memory-based services to the mining industry. Of course if the take-overs are able to retain at least some of the people who made the bough-out small company in the firts place, then maybe it is OK for a while to engage the big consultant for as long as that outstanding individual is alive. And hope that the deceased has trained younger folk to stand in the deceased’s boots.
There is, in my mind, at least one good reason to choose a big consulting company over a small consulting company: when you need a big project done that requires lots of junior people to churn out calculations, specs, drawings, reports, and generally do a lot of work that the mine will not need to do every again.
There are times when the idea of ignoring the small one-person consulting company is the better course: i.e., when you want skilled, experienced, specialized services and the one-person that is the consulting company is the best in the field.
In today’s example, we were talking of somebody to analyze the stability of the rock slope of an open pit. There are few who can do this with skill and ability. Surely you should look at the resume of the person who will come to determine that your pit wall is stable, rather than look at the list of project descriptions of a large company that may have just an ordinary resume to offer. If the project descriptions are that good, and the proposing company cannot supply the person that made the projects a success, then I would go out to find that person, regardless of whether they are in a big or small consulting company. Even pull them out of retirement if they are available.
I admit middle-sized consulting companies have a “character” or approach to doing things. Most consulting companies look for a certain type of employee, retain a certain type of person, and continue in business by selling the services of that type of person. If you are simply seeking a particular type of person, then indeed it may be enough to look at the company’s projects and human resources manual and engage them without any concern for the resume of the people who will come to site and produce the deliverables you need.
Certainly, I would never advocate chosing a consultant on the basis of the potential longevity of the people who will od the work. But as today’s lesson goes to show, there are mining companies out there that employ staff who do select on the basis of age, actuarial tables, and corporate memory. Just something to think about this evening.
PS. I hardly know whether to be impressed or incensed. Here is a link to a site where they kind of copy the first paragraph of this posting by changing a few words, reorganizing things a bit, and then screw up the grammar. Amazing what people will do; more amazing what they will read.