Today I rode up the trail between the trees & ferns dappled by sun & blue sky. After a long uphill climb with leg muscles screaming in pain, I came on the downhill section. Changing gears, I sped up and sped faster and faster down. Coming on a turn I have taken many times, something went wrong.
I am not sure if I was distracted by a patch of sun, a blue of sky, a random thought, or a temporary mental blackout. Whatever it was, the next I knew, my bike and I were out of control. I could not avoid a veering to the left, the grass besides the road, a rough swerve over rocks, a careering through the ditch, and a slide along the grassy bank.
I came to rest with my bike atop me, my right foot still clipped to the pedal, and a bump to the hard hat. Grass bespattered my bike and clothes, and mud was everywhere.
Not to belabor the story, I climbed out, re-took the road, and proceeded with no harm to the bike and a few scrapes to the left arm. Shaken but awake to every nuance of the road and bike. It was a great ride.
In retrospect, the idle thought that distracted me was of the offices of consultants. Let me explain. Having completed an EduMine course on Groundwater Modeling for Mines, the course I am writing is on consulting in the mining industry. How do you organize, act, manage, and work as a consultant in the mining industry, is the topic I have tackled.
On the fast downhill part of the road, my mind turned to mining consultants’ offices. I was recollecting the many offices I have worked in as a consultant to the mining and other industries. I was trying to find the common theme, the lessons, the guidelines worth writing about
I thought about the first offices of Steffen, Robertson, and Kirsten. Andy Robertson has always insisted that the offices of his consulting practices be in the very center of town, close to the offices of the mining companies. The first offices of what is now called simply SRK were therefore downtown. Close to the railway station, and a few blocks from the offices of the great mining houses of Johannesburg. We soon outgrew those offices and move to a high floor in a tall tower within a block of the big five mining houses.
Then Andy moved to Vancouver and took offices along Alberni Street. Last night on illicit pursuits I passed the building and the general store where we bought snacks and cigarettes thirty years ago.
We were close to the few mining companies then in Vancouver. At least you could walk to them all.
Today, Andy still insists on office in the center of Vancouver. I can still walk to all significant mining places in Vancouver.
Andy failed to persuade John Welsh to take central Denver offices when SRK established there. John insisted on offices in a nondescript part of a dull suburb to the west of Denver. This was close to a house he had bought besides a busy, noisy road. Still today, SRK is in that area of ugly offices surrounded by asphalt parking and cars with a few trees to hide the horror of the place and the vast piles of dirty snow that make the winter a cold hell landscape.
Then I landed in Albuquerque where we had the 14th to 17th floors of the only high building in a flat landscape. It was not downtown, but was close to the only two shopping malls in the city. My office looked over the suburb in which Ralph B. Peck lived. I met him often at the local engineering meetings.
Then to Kansas City and one of those terrible office complexes worse than the Denver blight. Then to Oak Ridge where company policy forced me to rent new offices in yet a third soulless office complex. It was with great happiness that I moved to offices in the center of Pasadena. At least there was urban business; plazas, places to eat, street to walk along, and all the complexity & variety of the city-landscape I love.
Hence to Huntington Beach and offices just over the road from the city hall. I could once again walk to work, walk to shops, and in a few minutes be in the town center where there were people, cars, building close together, and congenial places to eat. Like the Hard Rock Cafe of Beach Boys fame.
The only problem was that Huntington Beach is expensive and young engineers cannot afford to live there. So the company opened office in the Inland Empire where the young could afford to live. This worked well for now they commuted to Huntington Beach to meet with the older, richer engineers on client’s time & expense.
The practical point of these ruminations on offices (and a nasty ride through a ditch) is that I believe Andy had it right: get offices in the center of the city. Staff are happier in vital surroundings. Clients like to come visit. Creativity is stimulated by exciting cityscapes; staff are as dull in outlying suburban asphalt parking lots as the dull surroundings.
It may cost more to rent offices downtown, but productivity and creativity, and staff motivation will more than pay for the additional expense.
And to miners seeking to engage consultants, the final advice: retain those with office in the city center and avoid those in dreary strip malls and substandard office complexes in straight-laced suburbs. You pay the same, but you will get better people and services from the city types.