Developing Your Mining Career: an Interview with Spencer Davey


As part of the  “Developing Your Mining Career” program, a career development program delivered in partnership with AusIMM’s New Professionals Committee and Floreat Consulting Australia, we are publishing a series of interviews with mining professionals who are having outstanding careers. In this second post in the series we speak to Spencer Davey. Thank you to Spiro Pippos for conducting these interviews on behalf of the New Professionals Committee. 

Spencer Davey

1. Please give a short overview of your career and describe where you are looking to head post MBA

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to experience vastly different perspectives in mining & metals. I consider myself a mining professional, having acquired a broad set of experiences as an engineer, a management consultant, and most recently in corporate finance and business development. I’ve mostly been Perth based, but have worked extensively through both remote and metro areas of Australia, and also through-out the Asia Pacific region.

I studied a double degree in Mechatronics Engineering and Finance – and while I did work as an engineer for a couple of years, the plan was always to move into a more commercial role as that is where my passion laid. I saw management consulting as a great opportunity to “fast track” that career move, and it did. I had no intention of becoming a partner in a management consultancy, but I used the role to build skills in strategy and commercial acumen, financial analysis, communication skills, and general management skills.

I moved “in-house” to Fortescue Metals Group when a role became available for a Senior Financial Analyst. I jumped at the chance, because at the time Fortescue was the Cinderella story of Western Australia, and was going through a US$10bn expansion of its operations. It was also run by colourful and high profile mining captains of industry, whom I thought I could learn from if I ever decided to be part of a new mining development one day.

The role at Fortescue did not disappoint. I was exposed to the corporate world of mining, and I had the opportunity to work on multi-billion debt restructuring, billion dollar equity transactions, and my travel took me from the remote operations of Fortescue to the head offices of bulge bracket investment banks and legal firms in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

Post MBA, I’m looking to move into Private Equity with a mining focus. Due to its speculative nature, mining was traditionally an industry that was avoided by private equity. However, in recent years, a number of high profile global mining leaders have left their executive positions and have raised an aggregate of US$50bn to invest in the industry, to take advantage of depressed commodity prices and valuations. For me, I find this an exciting time and would love to part of the next wave of investment into the industry.

2. What has had the largest positive impact on your career progression to support you reach your position?

The largest positive impact on my career progression was being involved in a US$1.15bn cross-border transaction between Fortescue Metals Group, and Taiwan based Formosa Plastics Group. This transaction provided the initial funds to develop a 5.2bt magnetite asset in remote Western Australia, and first ore on ship is expected in 2015! The experience on this transaction exposed to international business and negotiation, and the root-source of capital financing for large scale mining projects.

3. What has been the largest challenge to your career progression?

The largest challenge for me was the transition from a technical based, engineering role, to the commercial based, management consulting role. The transition required a huge investment in time on my part, to “get up to speed”. Further, making a career change meant that I took a substantial pay cut, by essentially starting again from the bottom.

4. What surprised you about the work when you first moved into a role managing people? (if you have managed people)

The thing that surprised me when I moved into a position of actually managing people was the difficulty in letting go of doing the work. I found it very difficult to delegate, and this was an issue on my part in wanting to control the outcome.

5. What is your advice to people starting out in their careers in the Mining sector?

My advice would be to take an active interest in all the aspects of your mining company. Mining is a great industry, as it brings together a tremendous diversity of professionals – everything from trades, geologists, engineers, accountants, lawyers, blue-collar, white-collar… if you think of a mining company, almost every type of career of job imaginable is represented in some way! So, as a younger person starting out, leverage this opportunity to learn from this diversity. Everyone has a different perspective, and your career development will benefit from learning from all these perspectives.

6. Can you tell us about how your network has supported and assisted your career along the way?

Networking is by far one of the most important skills to have for career development. My role at Fortescue came about through a call from an ex-colleague, and my progress through Fortescue (I got promoted to Business Development Manager after 18 months) was a direct result of networking through the business itself.

Networking is what creates the “luck” in your career, and ensures that you’re in the “right place at the right time”.

7. What are three interesting careers that you have seen your colleagues do or are aspiring to do?

Head of sales and marketing, Fortescue Metals Group
This individual is in charge of the marketing and sale of 155 mtpa of Iron Ore, translating into over US$10bn in sales annually. David has to navigate the intricacies of managing Australia-China relations, and conduct business and negotiations between two very different cultures, in a commodity that is very significant for the economies of both nations

GM Business Development, Fortescue Metals Group
As the Head of Business Development, this individual needs to work across a very wide range of activities and issues, including multi-billion dollar transactions, litigation, internal cost optimisation and corporate strategy. In this role he reports directly to the CEO of Fortescue, and has to deal with all types of stakeholders, including State Members of Parliament, regulatory bodies, heads of global heads of corporations, and advisors.

Head of Mining – KPMG
This individual founded a management consulting practice called Momentum Partners. In ten years it grew to be one of Australia’s largest independent management consultancies, and was most recently acquired by KPMG. This individual is now is the national lead for Mining Consultancy in Australia.