A mining boom is a prosperous and enjoyable time for a mining consultancy company, there are exploration programmes; feasibility studies, geological assessments, optimisation studies and drilling programmes as mine after mine raises funds to get online. Conversely, as we have seen over the past few years, in a depressed market all of the players in the mining supply chain suffer the consequences of a low commodity price environment.
CSA Global are an independent mining, geological, technology and mining consultancy led by managing director Jeff Elliott from its head office in Perth, Western Australia. CSA Global has built a vast portfolio of mining consultancy work since its birth in 1984. Having established its reputation on the back of the Lisheen zinc deposit discovery, one of the largest in Europe at the time, CSA Global now has 11 offices in eight countries and provides far more than geological services.
Elliott negotiated a management buyout after becoming managing director more than 10 years ago. Since then, he has overseen an ongoing programme of diversification across all parts of the business.
This began with the opening of a UK office, then the company opened branches in Darwin and Brisbane. Singapore and Indonesia came next followed by South Africa and Russia. CSA Global then entered the North American market when it acquired Revelation Geoscience in Vancouver in 2012 before taking over ACA Howe in Toronto in August 2016.
“Over that period of regional growth we also diversified in terms of commodity coverage so that we could add commodity expertise in areas of demand and so we were able to cover every mineral commodity from gold and base metals to steel-making metals and industrial minerals.”
During that time, CSA Global also diversified from a narrow focus on geological consultancy to covering all aspects of the mining value chain. The company provides corporate advice e.g. due diligence when projects are reviewed or acquired, all stages of stages of exploration support, project evaluations, resource modelling, mining studies, reserve estimates, to operational support and information technology services.
Elliott says what has allowed CSA Global to grow from a single office in Dublin in 1984 to the globally-connected mining consultancy it is today is the ethos that is so important to the company.
Having himself been on the client side and having worked with CSA Global in a previous role, Elliott has seen first hand that company is driven by a passion to get the geology right.
“Upon good geological models you can build good mine designs with appropriate infrastructure. If the geology is wrong at the front, then everything has a lower chance of success.”
Further to that, Elliott says that what differentiates CSA Global is where some consultants are hesitant of working outside their expertise, CSA Global strives to collaborate with other mining professionals across various disciplines to see how the data, models and designs impact decision-making across the whole supply chain.
“Everyone has a part to play and it’s a collective collaboration that leads to success and we value how working together to get it right has positive impacts downstream.
Elliott also says he wants the consultancy company to show entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit and operate as a ‘true partner to the client rather than just a service provider’.
In terms of the CSA Global expansion strategy, the company has generally taken the approach that wherever their clients are willing to go and build mines, they must be willing to explore too.
Elliott describes it as ‘risk creating opportunity’ with the world being full of opportunities if you are willing to take some risks.
“We said why should we stay back in London or Perth, we should be getting out and helping wherever possible. We want new markets to get local representation that will add to the flavour of us geographically, culturally, (as well as) our technical capabilities and local knowledge.”
This was demonstrated, for example, by CSA Global’s expansion into Indonesia in 2008. CSA Global’s board recognised a change in the mining law and a change in government that was going to incentivise, or reduce the negativities around foreign investment.
The company made the move and CSA Global grew a successful office with 25 employees. However, the environment has since changed in Indonesia with a new government placing an export ban on mining and CSA Global have been agile to shrink operations there in line with foreign investment activity.
One of the strategies that CSA Global is pursuing with regional diversity is to be close to the global financing centres for mining, hence why Elliott targeted the UK and Canada.
London is the largest financing centre in terms of dollar value because it houses a lot of the global mining majors and Toronto is important for mining because the TSX is the largest financer of mining companies in terms of volume.
Elliott said acquiring a Toronto office had been one of CSA Global’s long term targets.
The 2016 acquisition of ACA Howe, the Toronto-based firm established by Peter Howe in the 1960s, represented the long awaited base in Canada’s home of big mining. Following the 2012 Vancouver acquisition, the ACA Howe move had various strategic elements, as well as being a straight expansion method.
“When we bought the business in 2012, it was highly significant to us to get representation in the Americas, particularly with the banks. Having a recognised name gets the front door open a bit, that’s what we are hoping for with ACA Howe in Toronto.
“The Vancouver business is operating more in the exploration end and around development projects, whereas ACA Howe is more diverse, covering mining studies, resource estimates and corporate work – it’s a nice set of complimentary services to our Vancouver office.”
CSA Global are already working with a number of TSX & TSX-V companies on projects and the company is pleased to now have an office in Toronto – the operational end of the market where the big players sit.
Another excellent advantage of the ACA Howe acquisition is taking on board the current ACA Howe president Felix Lee. Lee is the second vice president of PDAC and therefore is in line for the PDAC presidency.
“It gives us an opportunity to rejuvenate the businesses, integrate them and look for synergies. Lee is a highly regarded geologist in industry and will provide a great voice for the mineral exploration community. We are very fortunate and excited to have a senior member of our corporate team move into this pivotal role in the near future.
Mining on the up
While the global mining industry has had to severely tighten its belts over the past couple of years as it faced depressed commodity prices across the board, Elliott says there is a growing belief that it is returning to its former strength. “For the last 12 months we have seen an upturn in sentiment, it started in the gold sector and it was probably most prominent in Australia and Western Australia is the leading region out of that, and that happens to be where our headquarters are.”
Elliott says the price bump was based on the strengthening of the US dollar pushing the Australian gold price higher, coupled with the downturn in the industry forcing operating costs down.
With a softer oil price, lower steel price, lower wages and a higher sale price, many gold mining companies were making considerably more profit and it sparked M&A activity, according to CSA Global’s MD.
But it wasn’t until the start of 2016 that it transpired through to developers and explorers, and then spread out to places like South Africa and Canada who could also benefit from a strong US dollar.
However, while Tesla’s electronic vehicle announcement caused a lithium boom and investment returned to the Australian mining industry, Elliott is cautious to rest on his laurels in the good times.
“Everyone is scared of getting ahead of themselves in these better times, no-one wants to refer to it as a boom and I think it would be very silly to do so; the markets are still very volatile, as are the other macro-economic factors like the Chinese economy, debt fears, European weakness following Brexit and the US political situation.
“There’s still a backdrop of uncertainty but what has really changed is liquidity in the equities markets, particularly on the ASX and TSX. That’s a really positive thing because company’s can raise [capital]… and that flows on to the service providers and the cycle begins again.”
In the next 10 years Elliott wants to consolidate CSA Global as an even more global company with stronger capabilities. Establishing a strong and profitable American business represented by sizeable teams in North, Central and South America is a key target for the coming years.
Elliott also wants to continue to expand in Africa, opening a stronger operational office and building up presence in the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and Russia.
“[We want] global representation and to have the capabilities suitable to the local areas. It’s either being close to financing centres for mining or having operational and technical capabilities in areas where there is significant mining industry.
“That’s the strategy, but we want to do that by maintaining the company culture of being one company, giving independent and pragmatic advice with a passion for getting things right and growing with the client.”