An eye for business cycles

Ronald Thiessen, CPA, CA and CEO of Hunter Dickinson Inc., says effective leadership in the mining sector comes from understanding the cyclical nature of the business.

Q. How would you describe your leadership style?

A. I would say that the word is "consensus." I try to get people to all buy into the same thing. You need to say, ‘This is the way I see it,’ and not be afraid of people having different opinions. Then you come to a consensus.

Can good leadership be learned?

I think there are people who are destined to lead and are better at it than most. I do think there’s a large intuitive part to it, but people who are leaders can always improve on what they’re doing.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as CEO of HDI?

The fact that the industry we’re in is cyclical. It’s the upsizing and downsizing and the ability to "right size" the organization for what you’re looking to do. Having the right individuals is the most challenging part.

How have you met that challenge?

It’s knowing those cycles and anticipating them. You can’t allow the down part of the cycle to drag you down because that’s the opportunity side of it. It’s when you need to evaluate and acquire projects, even though it’s the hardest time to raise capital and you have the smallest team. That’s when one has to manage things closely — when money is scarce and it’s the easiest time to fail.

How did training as an accountant help you succeed in this business?

I had clients in the commodities sector, in fishing, mining and oil and gas, and I saw how cyclical their businesses were and how companies went under when they didn’t anticipate those cycles and therefore didn’t manage their funding adequately. I found that being an articling student and then an accountant was probably one of the most comprehensive educational experiences that anyone could have because you get to see a diverse set of businesses in a compressed time frame.

Ronald Thiessen got his bachelor of commerce at the University of Saskatchewan and achieved his accountant’s designation while at Thorne Riddell (now KPMG) in 1977. Since 1999, he has been the CEO of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a privately held mining group based in Vancouver that acquires, develops and operates mineral properties worldwide.