Rock Star: Mark Bartkoski

Mark Bartkoski has dedicated his career to building integrity and efficiency in mining

Mark Bartkoski points to a site of interest on a mining exploration/resource map.

Mark Bartkoski has worked at mines around the world, drawing from his experiences to write his book, "Building Integrity." — Photo courtesy Conuma Coal

Almost 40 years ago, Mark Bartkoski began his career in mining.

“After a couple summers working in the industry, I fell in love with the operational challenges and diversity,” he said. “Every day is different, which I thought was fascinating.”

What started as a simple love for the outdoors grew into a career that has carried him around the globe. He has worked at countless mining operations and even wrote a book from his experiences: Building Integrity.

Now, Bartkoski is one of the founders and president of Conuma Coal Resources Ltd., based in British Columbia. He is also the chairman of the Coal Association of Canada (CAC) Board of Directors.

Building integrity

Bartkoski has picked up quite a few lessons over the years that reflect his deeply rooted value of integrity.

The most important is to treat employees as equals, no matter the rank. This is something that Bartkoski learned in the early days of his career—he started in the field like those he now manages. “One of my strengths is that I put my roots down in the operations and with the people,” he said. “I’m no more important than they are.”

Through his career, Bartkoski has meet thousands of people across hundreds of mine sites. Many of his past roles involved rebuilding failing operations. This is where he learned a second lesson: when met with a problem, pay attention to the experts—the employees working in the field. His respect for their knowledge and opinions opens a dialogue and welcomes a relationship.

“Every operation is different but can be improved if you listen to the team’s ideas, learn from their past and build through change with the team,” he said. “I tell them all the time that they are co-owners.”

An example of this strategy at play can be seen at Conuma through its Project Excel. Each operator completes real-time checkpoints and can submit real-time suggestions for improved efficiency from a personal tablet while on the job. The management team monitors these suggestions and makes changes wherever possible.

“It’s a way to take the real-time information from the experts in the field and prioritize an up-to-date action plan,” he said. Project Excel has significantly improved the efficiency of Conuma’s operations.

Defining efficiency

Bartkoski’s definition of efficiency differs from most others in the industry: “We earn efficiency,” he said. “Efficiency is maximized safety with optimized productivity. They have to go together.”

He believes that the mining industry still has room to improve, and he hopes to guide his own company to an exceptional state of efficiency. “We have to look at ways to reduce our losses,” he said. At Conuma, Project Excel helps in this regard. “If we do that and work with our people to come up with better solutions for how we run our companies and the way we handle challenges that come at us every day," he said, "then we are ahead of the game.”

Walk the talk

Bartkoski is committed to integrity for himself, his corporation and each of his employees. He hires for integrity first and skill second, with a training budget three times larger than normal. Bartkoski believes that people can learn skills, but the level of integrity is in their nature.

He is dedicated to bettering the community around Conuma’s operations. Conuma has hired 550 people in the last 14 months and plans to hire another 300 over the next eight months. The majority of these employees are from the local area. “Our goal is that when a person joins us, they can retire from us,” he said. “If you can join people who have job security and family values as a high priority, you can build an awesome secure team.”

After learning a bit about how Bartkoski manages his projects and teams, it’s easy to see why Conuma Coal received the “Walk the Talk” award in 2017. This award recognizes Conuma’s support of the local communities, the integrity of their operations and the promises they’ve kept.

Coal Association of Canada

Bartkoski was recently appointed to chairman of the board of CAC. He defines his role as a facilitator. “I’m excited about opportunities surrounding the coal industry,” he said. While he sees areas where the industry needs to improve, he is thrilled at the chance to help lead change.

The biggest change Bartkoski advocates for is a mutually beneficial relationship between coal and renewable energy. “I don’t think we need to be fighting as much as we need to realize that we all need each other,” he said. He plans to help CAC work with renewables to create a win-win situation for everyone. He thinks we need more collaboration in energy to succeed and responsibly fulfill needs.

Bartkoski makes these statements while also recognizing the mistakes the coal industry has made in the past.

“We have to recognize and address the mistakes we made as a group in the past and show that the international community needs our product,” he said. He acknowledges the problems but stresses that they can’t be fixed overnight. “I think we have a commitment to the environment, and our support needs to be strong,” he said. The industrial footprint must be a net positive in the short and long term.

Together, the energy industry will succeed. “When we truly build a win-win, there’s a wonderful opportunity,” he said. “We have a great opportunity in Canada.”

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