Robert (Bob) Lipic has been shot at, kidnapped, held up by knife-wielding bandits who poked and prodded him with their weapons, and survived numerous other dangerous situations in a myriad of countries around the world.
It’s all in a day’s work for the 62-year-old president and CEO of Mining Technologies International (MTI), and the Entrepreneur of the Year of the 2006 Northern Ontario Business Awards.
As the tenacious and laid-back leader of Canada’s largest manufacturer and supplier of mining equipment, Lipic has become a veteran of international business negotiations during his global travels, while at the same time, building up his Sudbury-based company into a multi-million dollar giant in the mining supply industry.
Lipic has 46 years experience in the mining industry. He began his career with Falconbridge’s Strathcona Mine after finishing his geological education at the Haileybury School of Mines, where he currently sits as a board member.
Smith International scooped him up to test their new mineral exploration drilling system and within two years Lipic was taking care of product distribution for Eastern Canada. In the mid 1980s, Smith International decided to exit the mining industry and put their Drillco Industrial division up for sale.
Lipic, who never thought he would ever become a business owner, acquired the Canadian and then later the Australian operations. Drillco spent quite a bit of time with Inco Ltd. researching and developing new equipment and components under the mining house’s subsidiary, Continuous Mining Systems. When Inco decided to sell that subsidiary, Lipic jumped at the chance to purchase it along with two other businesses in the United States.
The company later assumed the name of Drillex International, to give it an international persona to break into the international market. As Drillex grew into one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of mining equipment in Canada, their name changed once more to Mining Technologies International.
In the last decade, Lipic has ventured into the old worlds of East Asia and Russia by establishing contact agents and partnerships. There is a risk factor in dealing with overseas countries, one in which banks know quite well, Lipic says.
MTI concluded a three-and-a-half-year bidding process with the Russians where every detail was negotiated from shipping and payments to title ownership and banking credits. Negotiations would start at 9 a.m. and finish at 2 to 4 a.m. the next day with only a lunch break and no supper.
“You have to be in good shape and in good health otherwise you have to walk away from those meetings,” he says.
Lipic’s business has allowed him a window into new cultures. For example, a chief negotiator in China will toast to new partnerships by drinking a shot of liquor, which Lipic describes as the “worst taste in the world.” The shot contains recently killed snake’s blood, which is consumed for good health.
It could be one of the many ways the Chinese try to throw off the negotiating process, Lipic says. Goodness knows there are so many, but to not drink is a sign of weakness. After eight or 10 shots, negotiating continues usually with a ratio of 20 Chinese businessmen to one or two Canadian visitors.
“You’re always outnumbered,” he says “They just hope you make a mistake.”
After five days in China Lipic says his team feels as if they have been dragged through the mud with their tails caught in the car.
One has to be careful when negotiating with foreign countries because some will attempt to obtain title ownership of the product before payment is due, causing a great deal of work for the Canadian company later on, he says.
“Do not be fooled. There are many people telling you they can do things they cannot. It can be an expensive proposition trying to open a few doors.”
In the process, one may have to eat a bowl full of bugs or snakes to get there. And Lipic has managed to consume his fair share while establishing himself as an entrepreneur extraordinaire.