Mining Plus has just opened offices at Bristol in England, and Brisbane in Australia, and is seeing strong growth in other parts of the world, particularly in North America and Down Under. As well as its thriving Canadian operations, overseen out of Vancouver, the company has established a US business entity and is in the process of opening an office in what is another promising market.
Mining Plus also continues to build its presence in Latin America, where senior consultant and manager Paul Murphy has been growing the team since 2013.
Perth-based Auld, who started Mining Plus in 2005 with fellow mining engineer Peter Luck, says the company and its ‘One Team' intra-office project support business model that can see up to 125 projects a month being progressed virtually around the clock by more than 120 full and part-time professionals in eight offices and 6-7 time zones, hit a market purple patch from 2016 after falling in a deep hole with many of its peers between 2013 and 2015.
Vital support from corporate partner Byrnecut, one of the world's largest mining services groups, enabled Mining Plus to keep a strong core team of its people together during the downturn.
Auld says was key to the consulting company's rapid response to improved market conditions in 2016.
"We have effectively regrown the business from then," he says.
"From 2016 to 2017 we were at pretty much 100% growth, and then from 2017 to the end of this calendar year end there's been probably another 50% growth to round out those three years.
"Last year we were back to where we were in the peak in 2012.
"We made a decision, with our partner Byrnecut, to sustain a big investment in keeping our team together during the market downturn but that's why we've been able to have that growth through 2016, 17 and 18. We had a large team, a strong loyal team, and when projects did come up we already had a presence and a team and we had the capabilities and capacity to take off.
"When I say loyal team, we have had very little turnover and that is now starting to show in some of the employment milestones being achieved by long-serving Mining Plus staff.
"That is something we as a management group are immensely proud of."
As well as the work sharing promoted by the firm's One Team philosophy and underlying systems - including its global project management and business development intranet platform - core elements of Mining Plus's long-term strategy have been its recruitment focus on professionals with certain career milestones under their belt, the building out of its international network to tap markets that have historically responded differently to mining investment cycles, and its "define, plan, operate" capability set.
"That just reflects the different phases of activity across the project development cycle; define covering capital raising and exploration, plan being effectively studies or desktop work, and operate being site-based services," Auld says.
Mining Plus started with key people with operations, or practical, experience who then wanted to pursue technical application of their skills and experience. Hence the ongoing recruitment emphasis, and connection with the execution and operations phase of projects.
"And then all of the areas where our offices are located are somewhat offset. We typically see Australia at a different stage of the funding and project development cycle to North America, which tends to be more advanced again than Europe," Auld says.
"It [market revolution] does seem to flow in a certain sequence.
"Europe, and the UK in particular, was part of our long-term planning to, firstly, take advantage of the project work in Africa and, increasingly, regions such as Eastern Europe, and the financing out of London, and secondly, the availability of some very highly trained professionals who came out of institutions like the Camborne School of Mines, who were ready to put their operations experience to work as consultants."
Experienced geologist and mine planning engineer Dan Tucker, who now heads Mining Plus' EMEA expansion out of Bristol, was a University of Wales graduate who spent nearly two decades building a work resume in the field with large and small miners. He's now been joined by a principal geologist, "so we're off and running there, which is exciting", says Auld.
Mining Plus also spent several years evaluating the best location for an Australian east coast office before opting for Brisbane. Auld describes it as a "superior" location for the type of professionals the firm is looking for, and as an operating base in the region.
"The perfect sort of professional for us tends to be an individual who's gone out early in their career getting lots of experience at different mine sites, a lot of operational and technical experience, and then gets to a point where they have families and want to return home, wherever that is," Auld says.
Future growth, with caveats
Despite a rough year for mining equities in North America, equity funding has continued to flow for good projects and Mining Plus' regional workload has expanded.
"North America is a very, very strong market," Auld says.
"Our North American office is probably the busiest it's ever been, and the busiest office in our entire business - to the point of the team there being overloaded.
"So we've put in place work-sharing scenarios, under our One Team philosophy, and they also have a very solid pipeline of new professionals joining the team. It's gone from being a small team to one that's quite sizeable now, so the challenge is on-boarding and maintaining quality and our reputation.
"Zach Allwright and Neil Schunke are doing a great job overseeing that.
"All the area managers and country managers have been hitting their straps and a goal of Mining Plus next year is to expand the leadership team and move to full autonomy for those area managers and their areas.
"That's another quite exciting milestone for us and our development as a company.
"I'm looking forward to where that's going to be by this time next year."
Auld says an "awakening" - or possibly a reawakening - of the mining sector in Eastern Europe, with potentially massive development bank and fund capital inflows over the next few years, has certainly been a factor in making the Bristol office a reality and "why I think our biggest growth longer term is probably going to be out of our UK office".
On the overall outlook for the next 12 months, Auld says if the first 13 years of Mining Plus' existence has reinforced anything about life in the mining services fast lane, it's that the sector's volatility and cyclical nature produces potholes, and that it pays to remain vigilant.
After three years of strong growth 2019 is looking like "business as usual".
Beyond that, though, "I think there is a collective plateauing, or even a correction or downturn, in store".
"From a planning point of view we are very conscious of defensive actions within that sort of time-line - 12 months or beyond," Auld says.
"We've been very conscious of where the mining cycle is and where Mining Plus sits within that and we think we're going to see tougher times in about 12 months.
"That doesn't mean we still can't thrive. It just means we need to be prepared and put defensive points in place which we're doing right now.
"We are certainly seeing a two-speed factor in the market right now. The lack of investment in exploration during the [previous protracted] downturn has led to no new discoveries for acquisition and development now, which is why producers generating lots of cash can't deploy it [on M&A].
"So there are also plenty of good reasons to see that exploration will continue to pick up, and investment in projects to maintain production levels will remain at a strong level. We are doing a lot of work across a broad range of commodities - gold, base metals, lithium, bulks - which points to markets [end-use sectors] stimulating activity even though prices have drifted during 2018.
"And we are back doing diamonds again, which is always another interesting sign of where the market is at."
About Mining Plus
Mining Plus is a leading international mining technical services provider, with professionals specialising in geology, mining engineering (surface and underground), geotechnical engineering, mine ventilation and operational management.
From a small two-man consulting company based in Perth, Western Australia, Mining Plus has expanded globally and now also has offices in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne in Australia; Vancouver and Toronto in Canada; Bristol in England; and Lima in Peru.
The company's core capability is in geology, mining engineering, and geotechnical engineering, covering a broad range of mineral commodities and project types, enhanced by strategic alliances in other core disciplines.
HEAD OFFICE: Level 1 Bravo Building, 1 George Wiencke Drive, Perth Airport WA 6105
Tel: +61 8 9213 2600