Courtesy of Samantha Espley

Samantha Espley, CIM’s president-elect, will take the reins at the institute in May. Espley has worked in Sudbury for most of her career and spent 30 years at Vale, most recently as the company’s director of mining technology and innovation, before retiring in October 2019. Over the course of her career, Espley has worked her way up the ladder, taking on management roles in engineering, mine technical services, mining and milling operations and technology. She’s also a staple of the Sudbury mining community, and a strong advocate for Canadian mining.

CIM: What is the single greatest quality you look for in young talent?

Espley: I really like initiative, because with that there’s complexities of courage and knowing your own mind and having confidence, so I look for that. You’re starting to see [new employees bringing different perspectives] being embraced in the workplace and applauded. When I think of some of the young engineers in training on my team, I feel invigorated when I see them taking the ball and running with it.

CIM: What professional quality was the most difficult but worthwhile for you to cultivate?

Espley: One of the things I needed to learn, and probably did learn the hard way, was being a little more politically savvy. There are hierarchies and channels and when I was [full of] initiative coming into industry and taking off on a project, I wasn’t following the chain of command and tasking people who didn’t report to me. I had no authority to do that and really I had no guidance. No one was telling me, “that’s a good idea but you have to go through this process.” I stepped on some toes and was quickly pulled into line. I think it would’ve been helpful if I had a little more foresight or education or someone guiding me through that quagmire because with big organizations and lots of mines, trying to contact numerous people for input, I definitely needed some political savvy. [Learning that] has carried me through my career, and helped me when I was interfacing internally and with other organizations.

CIM: Some say failure is a stepping stone to success. How has failure shaped your success?

Espley: I always had this path in my head about going into operations, and I did. I went into operations and had a dream to continue to higher levels in the operation. I applied for a job and I didn’t get it, probably to the shock of many people because I was being groomed for it. I was totally devastated, I could not explain how low I hit, and I just had to re-evaluate. Not long after that, an opportunity opened up at sort of the same level but leading a brand new huge project, one of our billion-dollar projects at Vale, being part of the engineering team for that. It just took me down a whole different path, learning about hoists and headframes and not just the underground mining side. It really took me down a different road and I don’t regret it. In hindsight, I think it did me well. I feel very blessed with the opportunities that I received.

CIM: What is the most worthwhile investment you’ve ever made in your career?

Espley: The biggest investment in my career has really been outside of my career. I [commit] time and focus [to] the job when I’m at work and then in my off hours I’m with family for sure, but I spend a good amount of time with the mining community. I’ve given a lot of time to Science North on their boards, I’ve given a lot of time to Laurentian University, and to CIM. With CIM, I got involved probably 30 years ago; it was one of the managers who said, “Hey, Sam, we need someone to manage the audio visuals for the CIM Sudbury branch. Would you do that?” and I said sure. And I just fell in love with the organization, I love the energy, the different talks from people who would come to town to tell us their story. I’ve been involved ever since and it brings me huge joy to see this big Canadian mining industry and how much of a family it is. I can’t believe [that I’ll be CIM president], I didn’t even dream this moment. I just sort of fell off my chair when [CIM past-president] Michael Winship asked me if he could put my name forward. It’s a tremendous honour, and I’m really looking forward to taking the reins.

CIM: If there was one decision in your professional life that you could redo, what would it be?

Espley: I don’t regret anything. I’ve stayed a lot in Sudbury as a one-company person. I’m proud I was able to stay 30 years. I think the opportunities for the next generation are going to be very different and if I was doing it again in this day and age, I would look for opportunities in different companies and different locations in the world to really grow as a person and to learn so much more.

CIM: You recently announced your retirement. What are your plans now?

Espley: When I joined Vale, I knew 2020 would probably be my last year, and now I’m looking at my options. I’m doing quite a bit of mentoring and outreach to mining engineers, including engineering consulting support for the creation of better, futuristic designs. [I’d like] to get involved more with the universities and colleges in curriculum development too [to make it] more geared to industry requirements, to help students to be more ready for the digital era. It’s coming, so how do we change and adapt our curriculum to be more suited to the mines of the future? I think we need to provide technical roadmaps from the industry side. When I was at Vale, I explored that idea with Laurentian University. I was also just talking to the University of Alberta about how we could change the safety content and have it more focused on where the industry’s going around zero harm, and breakthroughs in safety performance in the industry. We need students and engineers geared toward that type of thinking.

CIM: What advice would you give to an ambitious university student about to enter the industry?

Espley: Find mentors, and not just within the same company necessarily but [find] somebody that you admire. I had a really interesting experience where I was asked to be mentor for a leader working at Health Sciences North in Sudbury, the hospital. Here’s a health industry and mining person mentee-mentor relationship and we learned from each other. [Young people] should think outside the norms and look at different industries and different people, if only for six months or even for a coffee. Don’t sit back and wait for somebody to take care of your career but reach out to people. I know myself, if somebody asks me “Hey, can we have a coffee?” I’m not going to say no. I’m really touched by it. My advice is not to think that you’re bothering someone. They actually are going to be happy to help you and offer some advice.