After more than four decades in the mining industry, Bob Lipic has learned a few things about exporting to markets around the globe.
Most importantly, it's that quality and consistency can make or break a company's reputation, so adhering to deadlines, minding time zones, and overcoming language and cultural barriers are just part of the business.
Lipic has navigated his way through the industry as CEO and president of Mining Technologies International (MTI) in Sudbury, which manufactures an array of mining equipment and high-quality drill string components. The company started exporting its products in 1987 after the purchase of Drillex International, and exporting now represents 60 per cent of its business.
Though it marked new territory for MTI, the whole company embraced exporting as an opportunity for expansion and growth, rather than relying solely on domestic business, Lipic said.
"There's nothing wrong with domestic business, but it's a big world out there," he said. "It has excellent opportunities to offer long-term employment and expansion to the company, so we have to be good at it."
MTI began by exporting its blast-hole products. At the time, Canada's open-pit operations were closing and business was slowing down, so in order to keep the company afloat, MTI turned to the international market.
Over the next eight years, MTI established a global reputation for quality and reliability and expanded its customer base. Even as metal prices fell and the industry tanked, MTI had built up enough of a backlog that it was able to maintain its stability.
Manufacturing and distribution locations have been established in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, and a network of agents and distributors extends to more than a dozen countries on nearly every continent.
"It's all about timing and understanding what are the lead indicators that give you the insight as to whether you should shut it down or turn it up," Lipic said.
The majority of MTI's revenue now comes from products made by the company at its manufacturing facilities in Sudbury and North Bay. Lipic said people have travelled to its sites, lured by the North's reputation as a mining hotspot, to see how equipment is engineered, built and tested, and that's been a boon to attracting new clients.
He also commends his highly skilled and dedicated employees, trained in an array of trades, for their role in manufacturing high-quality, durable and safe equipment that global clients have come to rely on.
"Internationally, people look up to companies in Canada that manufacture mining equipment and understand that the safety standards and the quality and support systems on the machines are useful and help maintain a good working environment and a safer working environment," he said. "Safety is most important today."
The company has engendered such loyalty in its workers that eight people retiring this year each have between 38 and 45 years of tenure with the company. Lipic conceded it will be tough to lose their knowledge and experience. But the company will continue to offer apprenticeships and maintain its involvement with college programs to mentor a new generation of skilled tradespeople.
If Lipic has one criticism, it's that Canadian banks still make it difficult to secure third-party leasing in international areas, which has become a common mechanism for funding projects. Canadian companies would do much more exporting if Canadian banks and financing companies made lending programs more accessible, he argued.
But where the financiers have faltered, MTI has gained strength, becoming more prudent in its approach to doing business, in return making the company more competitive and profitable.
"Today I can honestly say that $75 to $80 million of export business is out there for us—that we've developed," Lipic said. "That's a big change in our culture."