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A Sudbury giant who personified a generation

Bob Lipic died last month. If you were in the mining business in Canada, you knew him; or if you didn’t, you had heard of him.
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

Bob Lipic died last month. If you were in the mining business in Canada, you knew him; or if you didn’t, you had heard of him. He was as close to a 007 character in our mining industry as it gets, although in Sudbury there is no shortage of applicants.

As president-CEO of Mining Technologies International (MTI), Bob travelled the world selling stuff he designed and manufactured in Northern Ontario. Bob was part of the extraordinary renaissance of the Sudbury basin which rose out of the ashes of a year-long strike at Inco in 1977, along with the first wave of massive layoffs in the mining sector that followed. In three decades, more than 20,000 jobs disappeared. No city of similar size in North America has taken such a hit and fought back as successfully.

It was the DNA of Bob Lipic and his fellow travellers that made it happen. Last year, I was invited to say a few words at Bob’s retirement party at the Caruso Club in Sudbury. It was a full house. I feel the same way today as I did then. This is what I said.

“Bob Lipic may be from Welland, but he left that country a very long time ago. Bob came to this place where irrational exuberance, over-the-top success, and financial U-turns are a way of life. It is the way we live. Just when everybody is making money and doubling up on trips to Las Vegas, commodity prices crash, someone goes on strike, or a massive order from a Third World country gets cancelled and we are running for cover.

What is unique about Sudbury is that the people who create the wealth and consume the wealth are all in the same boat. We ride this roller coaster together and move from too many Ski-Doos and all-terrain vehicles to keeping body and soul together.

Mining cities are born to die, unless they find more gold or reinvent themselves. Bob is a huge part of the reinvention of Sudbury and Northern Ontario.

Our reporters at Northern Ontario Business, Northern Life and Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal have been watching and reporting on Bob for 30 years.

In 1994, Bob won the Northern Ontario Business Awards’ Company of the Year. In 2006, he won our award for Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 2012 he won our award for Exporter of the Year. We have nothing left to give. Bob is a member of the SAMSAA Hall of Fame and he has collected numerous other recognitions over the years.

Bob started as a salesman for various companies in the 1970s and when Smith International was running for cover in one of our commodity price crashes, he offered to buy the company instead of closing it. And so the game began.

What sets Bob apart is his extraordinary sense of adventure and fearless march around the world to sell the stuff he made and invented right here in Northern Ontario. Second only to selling stuff, Bob likes to tell the stories of the hunt.

In 2008, we reported, ‘Lipic has eaten everything that walks, crawls or flies while on business in Central Africa and the Far East. On one occasion in China, a live snake was introduced, the head was cut off, the blood drained into a carafe decanter and mixed with Chinese liquor to toast one’s good health.’ As Bob said, the worst tasting thing in the world.

Another time we learn about driving in the mountains of Peru where the Shining Tree rebel group would blow up highways to create improvised landing strips for drug delivery. This, he reported, could be hazardous to your health.

Bob is not perfect. Like virtually every other mining supplier in Sudbury, Mining Technologies International has been up and down for 30 years, not unlike the publishing business. What sets us all apart in this room is that we never quit.

Of course, the other person who never quit was Bob’s wife, Barb, loving him, saving him, running interference for him, protecting him, keeping him connected to his employees and making the impossible seem somehow normal.

The only thing worse than almost having your head shot off in deepest Africa is to have someone you love almost have their head shot off in deepest Africa.

Bob and Barb have made a difference in the lives of many in this community. It will be a long time until we see their like again.”