Check-up with the rock doctor
It’s a long way to the top, but CEO Catharine Farrow has made it
Most of us will never know what it’s like to be a CEO of an organization, but perhaps you’ve wondered what it’s like to walk in their shoes. Catharine Farrow has attained that coveted position within TMAC Resources Inc. As you might imagine, there’s not a whole lot of free time available to someone who’s accountable to so many. On this August morning Farrow is working away on emails at her home in Lake Nipissing, Ontario. “My son is still off school, my husband has gone back to work, so this weekend I’m working from the cottage,” Farrow said. “I’m taking some downtime before the fall. I enjoy being a hockey mom to my son. He’s 12. Once I get into the fall I’m basically not home very much so I’m taking this week to hang out with the boys a little bit.”
If this is what downtime looks like, then what happens when things are busy? “I work out of the Toronto office,” Farrow said. “I basically get up in the morning and give ’er all day, see as many people as I can, do meetings.”
TMAC owns the Hope Bay Project, which is a high-grade gold deposit located in Nunavut. Farrow oversees Hope Bay.
Moving around plays a key role in the life of a CEO. “A lot of it is travel,” Farrow said, “major investor conferences, road shows, going to site with senior executives as much as I can, ideally a couple of times per quarter. We really believe in a visible management or leadership style.”
Finding a balance between work and family is a tricky thing to navigate, especially for someone in the mining industry. “You have to go to the rocks,” said Farrow. “My husband and son have a stable home life and don’t move around a whole lot, and I travel. That’s the way we decided to solve the problem. Some families move. It comes down to what’s right for the family.”
TMAC Resources Inc. has plenty of projects on the go that Farrow is in charge of. Farrow said her primary focus is “getting Doris (North gold mine), the first mine, into production.
“The mine’s been operating since the fourth quarter of last year,” she said. “We’ll be in a unique position to be mining before we commissioned the mill. The mill building is largely erected. We’re working on starting to instal the mill. We’re very excited about it. We should be in commercial production by the end of the first quarter next year. We’ll be starting to commision the mill late this year and early into next year.”
You’d think that would keep Farrow busy enough at TMAC but there’s a whole lot more on the horizon. “We have two other mine environments that we’ll be building over the course of the next five or six years at Madrid and Boston,” Farrow said.
Environmental accountability is as much a focus now as it’s ever been. As CEO of TMAC, much of this responsibility falls on Farrow. She acknowledged her duty in that respect by sharing her philosophy: “Do as much as you can with as little a footprint as possible. I think that’s what we’re doing. If you can do what’s necessary with one helicopter instead of three, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Energy and Mines World Congress will be coming to Toronto in November. Farrow will be on a panel representing TMAC. She briefly touched on a few of the topics that she expects to discuss. “One of the things you’re limited to in the Arctic is generating energy with sole reliance on diesel,” Farrow said. “It’s a real challenge to keep costs down and keep the Arctic as a good place for investors to place their money. That’s a common theme.”
Now that we have a basic understanding of what a CEO does, let’s find out how Farrow made it to this point. Farrow said, “I got on a bit of a roll when I got into university—nine years full time—plus another year and a half for my PhD. Working on a PhD and other things is very hard. I was motivated on becoming an academic—I’m a rock doctor!”
Geology is one of the terms that comes to mind when discussing mining, but perhaps chemistry should be featured just as much. “There’s nothing that you do in this business alone,” Farrow said. “Part of the fun is to develop and grow with that team. If you don’t have the interpersonal energy of a great team, nothing else seems to matter much.” Not only is a dynamic group of people more productive, it’s necessary for everyone’s sake, including Farrow. “You go up to site and spend a few days with the people there, it’s inspiring,” she said. “It’s like therapy.”
Besides being an academic expert on rocks, an interpersonal pro and a well-travelled CEO, what other advice does Farrow have for others to reach the top? “Keep an open mind,” Farrow laughed. “Be passionate about the things that you’re working on. If someone asks ‘Are you willing to try this?’ say yes and try to work on it. You never know.”