Roots of success
The company whose centenary we are covering in this issue — Teck Cominco — is so much like a family, it’s scary. Despite a solidly Canadian heritage, its family tree resembles not so much a maple as a tropical mangrove, with adventurous exposed roots wedded together well above the waterline. In fact, by its 75th anniversary in 1988, Teck Corp. had been formed from the mergers and acquisitions of at least 16 operating companies starting with Teck-Hughes.
Teck’s growth in shareholder value has been the highest of any established mining company in Canada over the last 30 years — the result of developing 14 new mines in that period. They were Newfoundland Zinc, Niobec, Afton, Highmont (now part of Highland Valley), Bullmoose, Hemlo, Red Dog, Louvicourt, Elkview (a restart of a bankrupt mine), Quebrada Blanca, Antamina, Pend Oreille, Pogo and Cheviot. As well, the company has overseen the consolidation of two mining districts: the merger of three operations into Highland Valley Copper, and of six coal mines into the Elk Valley Partnership.
Don’t forget the acquisition of Cominco Ltd., already an octogenarian at the time. Teck took a 16% controlling interest in Cominco in 1986 (see CMJ June 1989 special issue), but it was 2001 before Teck finally gathered 50% interest in Cominco and took over the remaining outstanding shares to form Teck Cominco Ltd.
Still showing a firm preference for large families, Teck Cominco is currently a shareholder in 50 junior companies. Just last month the corporation announced a gutsy $17.8-billion bid to purchase control of Inco Ltd. The bid will close July 24, so we don’t know yet whether it will be accepted.
The family connection is most palpable in the Keevils’ involvement with Teck, beginning in 1959 when the late Dr. Norm B. Keevil took control of the Teck-Hughes Group. His son, Dr. Norm B. Keevil, Jr., took over from his dad as president and CEO in 1981. “Keevil Jr.” remains chairman of the company today, providing 47 years of family continuity — a record matched by few aside from Buckingham Palace.
There is one fresh face around the Vancouver head office. That is Don Lindsay, president and CEO of Teck Cominco since April 2005 (see personality profile in CMJ August 2005), whom Keevil describes as “really the perfect guy to carry on the tradition established by my father, me, Bob Hallbauer and David Thompson.”(The latter two were long-time corporate executives who started on the Teck side.) “He’s got the knowledge, the enthusiasm and just the right attitude, and he’s a great people person.”
Keevil added that, at 47, Lindsay is the right age. “When my father was doing his best stuff he was in his mid-40s. I have to say when I was doing my best stuff, and Hallbauer and Thompson, we were all in our mid-40s or early 50s. Age isn’t everything, but if you have the right person, that’s the perfect time: you have enough experience and still youthful enthusiasm.”
One other thing is his timing. Lindsay has arrived just in time to enjoy the best performance (financial and other) in the company’s history. These are the happy days.