ELKO – After almost four decades, Mary Korpi has decided to hang up her hard hat.
She officially retires from her position as director of community and external relations for Newmont Mining Corp. on Jan. 15.
Korpi was going to retire earlier this year, but Newmont asked her to stay on when the company acquired Cripple Creek in Colorado.
“Tom (Kerr) asked if I would stay through the transition of Cripple Creek into the Newmont family,” she said. “So, it sounded like a great opportunity and a new experience. In my own way, what I’m finding is, the transitioning there is also allowing me to make that transition towards retirement.”
Korpi’s long career brought her many opportunities and it all started in an area of the country that doesn’t have hardrock mines.
She grew up in northern Michigan, and graduated from Michigan Tech with a degree in chemical engineering.
“I always enjoyed math and science and chemistry, and when I got to college, it wasn’t what I started with but looked to be really an opportunity for a good career and different challenges,” she said.
She was right. Korpi was hired by Newmont in 1976 -- straight out of college.
The industry uses all types of engineers and many of the processes are chemical processes, Korpi said.
“So I was able to go to work and was in the metallurgical and analytical laboratories right off the bat,” she said. “So, it was a good fit, and provided a whole variety of experiences.”
The first mine she worked at was Magma Copper in Arizona. She came to Nevada in 1987. When she first moved to the Carlin site, she was still in the technical side of the industry.
“It was during the major growth opportunities,” she said. “Mines were expanding and mines were coming on board, so there was a lot of need for additional people.”
When she transferred to Nevada, Mill 5 was being built at Carlin. She also worked in Mill 3 and went to the North Area.
“I was there when we closed Mill 1 down in ’93, which started in ’65 with a seven year life,” she said. “It’s a great example of how you continue to do exploration and we’re still mining in the Carlin Pit.”
She moved to community relations about 20 years ago. The one thing that has definitely changed in the mining industry is communications, Korpi said. In the 1980s, the only people who were allowed to talk to the media were from corporate headquarters.
“Historically mining was not real active in telling their story, but mining was becoming more and more of a presence in northeast Nevada, because of that growth in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” she said. “The general manager at the time, I think he recognized we need to put more focus in this area, and his reason for approaching me was it was helpful to have somebody who knows the business.”
She said she couldn’t turn down the challenge.
“I’ve always had the philosophy that if something is offered to you, you might as well go for it,” Korpi said. “You never quite know where it’s going to take you.”
She said she will miss the people and the experiences of working for Newmont.
“I’m not going to miss checking emails at all hours of the night and day,” she said.
Korpi also is looking forward to moving to Reno and relearning how to sleep-in, in the morning.
“The hard part is leaving Elko, having been here a long time and the friends you establish and even the closeness to the mining portion of it,” she said. “But, four hours away from Elko is Reno and vice versa, so it’s not like leaving and moving across country. The other thing I like about Reno is, it has a mining connection. It’s in my blood and it’s never going to go away. I can be a staunch supporter of the industry in Reno, to maybe those that don’t recognize it.”
The male-dominated industry of mining didn’t phase Korpi. When she was in college her class only had three women. However, her first department head was a woman and there were several other women working for Newmont as managers.
“So I was exposed right off the bat to quite a variety of people,” she said. “I think one of the things that changed, especially if you look at engineering is if you look at the percentages now, in some engineering fields -- not all of them -- there are equal number of women versus men.”
Her advice to young people entering the industry is to not be afraid of a challenge.
“I would just say that you never say no to a challenge, to a job, to a project, whatever it might be. You may not feel like you know that much about it, but typically if somebody asks they believe that you can do it. So go for it, but also don’t hesitate to ask for help, to ask questions.”
Her advice to managers is to look to your employees before looking outside the company when there are new projects.
“I think there’s a responsibility to mentor people, to look at who’s there,” she said.
One of the projects that she helped Newmont establish and that she is the most proud of is the Legacy Fund.
“How that all evolved, not really knowing how successful we would or we wouldn’t be and how it has just continued to grow both from the percentages of people giving to the total dollar amount, and I think that shows the goodness, the generosity of our employees,” she said. “I think that’s how employees have real ownership to this community.”
Reflections of Mary
Through her long career, Korpi has had a large impact on people in Newmont and the community.
Tom Kerr, senior vice president for North America Operation for Newmont, has known Korpi since 1991.
“Mary and I were both superintendents of operations and then, over the years, we’ve work on the same team many times,” he said. “Throughout my current tenure as regional senior vice president for North American Operations, Mary’s role has been director of communications and external relations for the North American region. In this role, Mary has served as a member of our North American Leadership Team.
“Mary is truly a genuine, caring, loyal, and steadfast person and leader. Mary was impactful in many facets of our operations. She will leave a positive, sustaining mark on our industry, Newmont and the communities throughout northern Nevada for years to come.
“Mary will be greatly missed, however, through her leadership and dedication, she has an amazing team in place to represent Newmont and support our future success.”
Newmont Director of Renewable Resources of North America Jeff White said he has known Korpi for almost 20 years.
“Mary is a wonderful person,” he said. “She is very knowledgeable about the industry. She is very caring about the community. She is very caring and committed to the long-term health of the company and the community. She is unique in her experience base and in coming from operations.
“Mary is both a very dear friend of mine as well as a professional colleague, and I will miss working with her on a day in, day out basis, but she has that ability to reach out to folks, understand what concerns are, connect to people and make things happen. The foundation that Mary’s built positions Rhonda (Zuraff) and the team, and I think we’re all in an incredible position to drive into the future. I’ll miss Mary a lot.”
Korpi's successor as the director of communications and external relations is Rhonda Zuraff. She was hired by Newmont in 2011, but she has known Korpi longer than that because they were both on the Elko Area Chamber of Commerce board.
“I worked closely with Mary when I was in publishing, really that was my first foray into mining – getting to know Mary, and getting to understand through her a little bit more about the mining industry from the outside in,” she said. “.. She has an incredible ability to balance the business side of the business with empathy for those that work for her, with her and internally and externally. It was just evident early on that the support she garnered for Newmont from around the region was powerful.”
Korpi also has had an impact on people who work for other mining companies. Barrick Director of Communications for North America Lou Schack began his career in the mining industry when Korpi hired him in 1997. He had been working as a journalist for the Sparks Daily Tribune. He worked for Newmont until 2004.
“I remember in the early days she made me feel very welcome,” he said. “It was really a new function at Newmont. They never really had professional communications staff or media relations, so I saw it as an opportunity for me to bring my experience in the media to help them better manage their public affairs and communications.”
Another journalist Korpi had an impact on was Adella Harding, the first Mining Quarterly editor. Harding has known Korpi since 1996.
“Before the first Mining Quarterly came out in March 1997, the Elko Daily Free Press published an annual mining edition. I got to know Mary Korpi when she became manager of communications for Newmont in Nevada in 1996. We soon discovered we are both Michigan natives,” Harding said.
“Mary Korpi has been with Newmont many years, bringing her friendliness, availability and support to the company. ... She has been an excellent voice for Newmont in Nevada. She also has represented Newmont in professional organizations, the Women’s Mining Coalition, mining conferences and at community meetings.
“Mary Korpi brought a gift back for me from a visit to Washington, D.C., that is a good example of her sense of humor. She went to the Newseum, an interactive museum about journalism, and she said she couldn't resist buying the gift. I still have the mug that says: Trust me. I am a reporter.
“Korpi has been a voice for Newmont for many years, and she has always been helpful to the news media and to the communities where Newmont employees live. She has been a spokeswoman for Newmont through layoffs in 1998 when the gold price plunged as low as $250 an ounce to the good times when gold prices surged.”
Committee Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Yvette Waters said she has known Korpi for almost 25 years.
“My initial contact with Mary was strictly personal as both Mary and my husband worked for Newmont,” Waters said. “I was involved with CADV but at the time was not an employee nor the director. I did join the board right after we met. We saw each other at Newmont events such as picnics and other company events.
“As the chair of the fundraising committee for Harbor House, I began meeting with several individuals with the mines and Mary was one of them. Throughout my career as CADV’s executive director I have had many occasions to work with Mary, professionally and personally, not only when it involved her duties at Newmont but within our community, including her tenure at the Elko Chamber of Commerce. In addition Mary was and is a personal supporter of CADV and our fight to end violence against women and children.
“Mary put a face on Newmont beyond the corporation. She cared about the employees, the community and the company. Her smile, consideration and respect for every person I saw her interact with was and is an example to every other Newmont employee, especially those in administration.
“From the first time I met Mary she acknowledged me, the value of my experience and advice as an advocate and that of my husband as a Newmont employee. Throughout our careers, I never saw that change regardless of what was happening within the company or community.
“When things began to happen with United Way of the Great Basin, the person who reached out to CADV was Mary. She cared enough about the nonprofits and our continued existence to make a personal telephone call to each one to ensure we could keep our doors open. She explained the plans for the Legacy Fund and assured us Newmont would be there to be sure we continued to provide services and exist until the fund went into place.
“When you and your family are part of mining, people come and go in your life. Mary is one we will always remember was part of our lives in Elko and we are lucky to have met her and to consider her a friend of our family. We want to wish her all the best and may all her retirement dreams come true.”