During the last decade, Dick DeStefano has led the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Services Association (SAMSSA) to represent mining excellence in Northern Ontario, and its success can be attributed to one thing: boredom.
“I literally was bored,” conceded DeStefano, SAMSSA’s executive director and a founding partner. “I was near retirement, and when I was 65 I decided that I really hadn’t accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and that was to change the face of the community.”
After a career in consulting, he become a passionate advocate of the Northern Ontario mining supply and services sector, bringing together mining companies, innovators, suppliers, researchers, contractors and educators into a cluster recognized around the world for its knowledge, skill, expertise and experience.
The concept was hatched in 2003 during a conversation with Paul Reid, an economic development officer for the City of Greater Sudbury, out of which the pair determined the North’s 100-plus years of mining experience was a hidden asset that needed to be recognized and exploited.
DeStefano invested a year into researching the idea of a mining cluster, gathering input from the mining community through meetings with its key stakeholders. SAMSSA’s first gathering comprised six people from the industry to whom DeStefano made this pitch: let’s bring together mining intelligence, consolidate it, build a brand around it that is recognized around the globe, and then market it to the rest of the world.
“The hard part is convincing a fiercely, fiercely independent group of business guys that there was a value in taking what they were doing and maintaining it over a long period of time without being dependent on the two primary anchors in mining we had,” DeStefano said.
Something clicked, and by 2004, SAMSSA had created a website, founded a board of directors, incorporated, and established a mailing list of more than 400 international, regional and local contacts. DeStefano began sending out his now-ubiquitous daily mining-related emails to contacts on that list, increasing SAMSSA’s reach and that of its members.
He sensed that the bulk of the jobs could be found, not in extraction and refining, but in the supply and services sector, yet his evidence at that point was purely anecdotal. In 2008, he made a pitch for, and was successful in, securing $200,000 to commission a study through Doyletech Corp., the results of which demonstrated what he already knew.
“The evidence proved absolutely, 95 per cent, that there were more jobs—twice as much—in all mining service and supply companies than there were in all mining extractive and refining jobs in Northern Ontario,” DeStefano said.
Once DeStefano had the statistical evidence he needed, he could form new partnerships, attracting a wider range of members to the organization.
As industry focus shifted from physical labour to technology and innovation, SAMSSA shifted its focus as well, keeping abreast of industry trends, and widening its purview to innovation, technology and education.
With SAMSSA now celebrating its 10th year in existence, DeStefano is reflective about his role as its founding executive director.
“I think I’ve done a good job,” he mused. “I think I could’ve done a better job in some areas.”
He contends he could have been more aggressive building support in Sault Ste. Marie, and there’s an ongoing debate about the suitability of using ‘Sudbury’ in the organization’s name, as opposed to a more inclusive ‘Northern Ontario,’ a decision that’s rankled some members since SAMSSA’s inception.
DeStefano doesn’t rule out a name change in the future—he currently owns the Internet domain name for the Northern Ontario Mining Supply and Services Association (NOMSSA)—but believes there are more pressing issues facing the organization.
To continue to grow, SAMSSA needs more members, and it should have either a more pan-Northern or Sudbury-centric design, DeStefano said.
He also recognizes he has to start thinking about a succession plan, but he’s yet to find a person with the ideal mix of industry experience, academic know-how and financial savvy to replace him.
Still, he’s optimistic about the organization’s future, and he believes the strengths and talents of the industry will speak for themselves.
“I think SAMSSA will survive quite well,” DeStefano said. “Awards aren’t the big thing. It’s leadership, it’s belief, it’s having people who believe in you and me believing in them, and it’s the competencies that they bring.”