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Mining “turnaround man” dies at 89

Bill James led Falconbridge, Denison Mines to profitability
Bill James 1

One of the Canadian mining industry’s most charismatic figures, Bill James, died on Sept. 4.

He was 89.

A 2002 inductee into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, James was known in the industry as a “turnaround man.”

Born in Ottawa in 1929, the McGill University geological science graduate began working for his father’s mining consulting firm becoming moving on to Noranda Mines and to lead Falconbridge, Denison Mines and Inmet Mining.

Drawing on his strengths as a geologist, miner, consultant, and senior executive, James restored money-losing Falconbridge to profitability in the early 1980s by cutting jobs and corporate spending to produce a healthy balance sheet for the company and make it an attractive takeover target.

His hall of fame profile said James rejected several bids until Noranda made a strong push in the late 1980s. The company’s Kidd Creek metals complex was a much coveted asset.

James was lauded for his “auction tactics” in striking a good deal for Falconbridge shareholders.

He went on to work his magic at Denison Mines, which was on the verge of bankruptcy in the early 1990s, in pushing through a restructuring plan.

At Inmet, he supported the company’s efforts to secure rights to the Antamina zinc-copper deposit in Peru, which he viewed as a “company-maker,”

But weak metal prices and other factors complicated financing efforts, forcing Inmet to sell its interest. New owners put the deposit into production in 2001.

James was known to generously give of his time to industry associations and causes, receiving many accolades along the way, including the CIM’s Fellowship Award in 1992 and the Inco Medal in 1993. His funeral mass was on Sept. 8 at Blessed Sacrament Church in Toronto with interment at Mount Hope Cemetery.