ELKO – Every miner has his or her own story on how they became involved in the industry.
Some go the traditional route and know they want to be a miner before they go to college and others come to the industry in an unconventional way.
Two Newmont Mining Corp. employees, Pat Donovan and Cecile Thaxter, shared how they got involved with the industry and are currently working at Phoenix Mine near Battle Mountain.
Pat Donovan, full potential manager
Donovan has been a miner since 1987.
“I graduated from college,” he said. “I tore a piece of paper, for a job, off of the bulletin board at college – Sonoma State University in California – called the number, drove to Reno and I landed in a tent at Willow Creek Reservoir, where I lived for about four months before finally seeing Battle Mountain.”
Besides Reno, it was the first city he saw in Nevada.
“I was kind of shocked,” he said.
He was working for Touchstone Resources at the time. The company discovered the Ivanhoe deposit.
His degree was in geology.
When asked how he came to work for Newmont, he said “I was adopted.”
“I came along with the Santa Fe merger in 1996 or ‘97,” Donovan said.
Since he has been in mining, he has always lived in the Battle Mountain and Winnemucca areas.
He lived in Battle Mountain in 1987 and 1988 and moved to Winnemucca in 1989.
“I’ve been there ever since,” he said. “I met my wife in Winnemucca, Katie Doyle, and we have two lovely children, one in college and one a senior in high school.”
When asked why he became a geologist, Donovan said, “I always had pockets full of rocks as a kid.
“But the truth of the matter is, it’s the very first class in college I got an A in,” he said. “While all my other friends got Cs and Ds in it, it was easy to me and it was fun, and we had field trips. The computer science geeks didn’t have field trips, but we did, so we had a lot of fun.”
During his time in the industry, Donovan has been an exploration and mine geologist.
Donovan gave a little advice for anyone thinking about becoming a geologist.
“I think it’s really important to get a general geology degree, but it’s becoming increasingly important to get a graduate degree,” he said. “It just opens more doors for you. That said, the mining business is still amenable to hiring people with just bachelor’s degrees.”
He explained why a graduate degree is useful.
“If you want to manage part of the operation, if you want to assume more responsibility for the corporation, that kind of training helps you with that thinking down the road,” he said.
Despite Donovan’s degree and training in geology, his job title has changed to full potential manager.
“I was a chief geologist for 10 years, and when you do the same thing for 10 years things get … I don’t want to say stale, because it’s always exciting around being a geologist, it’s always fun, but here there was an opportunity in front of me that let me work in every single department and aspect of mining,” Donovan said. “I had never done that and it looked like a great opportunity to broaden my horizons, and it turns out, it’s been one of the funnest and most exciting things I’ve done in my career. It’s very rewarding.”
He said it is fun because he works with people and he is "a little bit of a people-person.”
“I want to play this out for awhile, and see where my interests grow,” Donovan said.
When asked what advice he would give young people who are looking at the mining industry as a career, he said, "The most important thing is to have a great work ethic and be curious.
“We love to employ people that work hard and like to solve problems all the way from welding to metallurgy," Donovan said. "Those are the two most important aspects, and I would say follow your heart that way. Don’t come into this business second guessing yourself, because it does require hard work, but it is one of the more fun things you can do. There’s a lot of freedom in mining; there’s also a lot of discipline. When you put those two things together it’s like playing on a good baseball team.”
Cecile Thaxter, general manager of Phoenix
Thaxter’s background is more varied and “probably more interesting than Pat’s,” she said with a smile.
She earned her first degree in math and computer science from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and received her master’s in business administration from Columbia University in New York.
“I really started in the mining industry when I did investment banking,” Thaxter said. “So I did investment banking for about 10 years, and I started covering general industrial companies and then I migrated to just focusing on mining and steel.”
She did that for “quite some time.” When she was in banking, she worked on the deal side with mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures.
“When I decided to leave banking, I thought about should I go to an industrial company or go to a mining company, and I decided to go to a mining company,” she said.
Thaxter joined Newmont in 2008.
“I came in as a group executive,” she said. “I was in the strategy and corporate development group back in Denver, in our corporate office. I did that for three years and then I moved to the region as the regional CFO.”
She moved to Nevada in 2011 and became the general manager at Phoenix about a year ago.
When asked why she left banking, Thaxter said, “I always wanted to be on the operations side to get, I guess, closer to the dirt.
“When you’re in banking, you do a lot of deals, you go to a lot of mining companies on your due diligence trips, you’re doing mine tours, you’re working with folks on site, but you’re not there on the ground,” she said. “I thought I knew a lot until I joined, I realized I really didn’t know a lot.”
She also left banking because she wanted to run a business.
“Even though it’s a mining company and it’s a lot of technical, metallurgy, mining, geology, all that good stuff, the way I look at it, I look at it more as a business, because we’re here to create value,” she said. “We’re here to generate value not just for shareholders, but for stakeholders as well, for our employees and communities.”
She said creating value makes a difference in the lives of the employees who work at the mines and the communities where they are located. Thaxter said she chose mining because she likes the industry.
“The cool thing about mining is that even though it’s pretty technical, it’s pretty basic as well because you’re moving dirt,” she said. “So there’s a lot of technical things that go with it, but it’s easy to understand. … It’s relatable.”
When asked how she became a general manager, Thaxter said “that is how you really become responsible” for the profit and loss at the site level.
“As the regional CFO, I was responsible for rolling up all the sites’ plans and how they were doing in terms of performance at the regional level,” she said. “So, you got a lot of insights into it in terms of working with the general managers and figuring out what’s impacting their business and talking to them primarily about reducing costs and enhancing revenues.”
She said it was exciting but she wasn’t the one who was accountable for those decisions.
“It was appealing to me to be closer to it and to be actually accountable and to have a say in those decisions in terms of what you do, when you do it and why you do it,” Thaxter said.
Her advice to young people trying to decide on a career was to have an open mind.
“If it’s not grown, it’s mined, right? So I think everybody can relate to mining on some level,” she said. “You’ve got to be willing to learn and get outside of your comfort zone and just take it all in.”
She said the mining industry is more than just Newmont. She said no matter what job someone has, he or she also needs to get involved in their community.
“I think it’s the whole experience,” she said. “It’s not just the job itself, and that’s one of the reasons I think it’s pretty cool, because of all the things that come with mining and the people within mining.”
Despite the industry still being male dominated, Thaxter said she isn’t conscious of her gender as a miner.
“I recognize it. I understand my responsibility, so I’m totally aware of that” she said. “But within mining it’s such down-to-earth people that you don’t really get some of the same stereotypes.”
When she worked in investment banking, which also is a male-dominated industry, she said she was more aware of her gender. She said being a woman has never been a hindrance or obstacle in her career in the mining industry. She said other women in the industry that she has talked to have had similar experiences.
“It’s a really, really cool industry in terms of the vibe, the dynamic, the people,” she said.