Over the years I have worked in many situations; as an independent consultant, as a member of a consultant’s study team, and as the owner’s representative managing consultants.   I have learned that there is a role for both the independent consultant and the consulting firms with mining companies.
A previous article (“9. Large Consulting Firms or Small Firms – Any Difference?”) discusses where I feel the large and small consultants fit into the overall picture.  Large or small technical teams are required where there are broader scopes of work, significant effort levels, and multiple technical skills are needed.   Independent consultants are a different option again, best suited for assisting the owner directly on either an independent or not basis. Sometimes the independent engineer might be on the Board of Directors or he might be part of an owner’s advisory panel.  Either way, management should have their own in-house advisory capability to bounce ideas off of and review the work being done.
Areas where the smaller independent consultants can differentiate themselves are as follows;
  • They don’t bring a lot of extra personnel onto the job.  They keep the work only to those that are needed and can usually pull in other experts as needed for specific tasks.
  • They can provide frank and straightforward advice without worrying about larger firm constraints, both legal and  business development related.  The independent consultant generally does not have the objective of trying to win a big feasibility study or EPCM job.
  • One can develop a good working relationship with the consultant, and everyone gets familiar with each other’s objectives and goals.
  • They can work efficiently at a pace of their own choosing, possibly resulting in lower costs and better timelines.  I know of independent consultants that work nights and weekends to meet deliverable schedules compared to those in larger firms who may tend to follow the Monday to Friday regime.
  • They can provide long term stability since they won’t have much turnover.  I know of a personal case where I was technically involved from afar in an international operating mine for over 15 years.  The technical staff at the mine site had significant turnover (partly due to promised corporate relocations), but I was a constant able to provide history (and backup reports) as to why and what was done previously, avoiding re-inventing the wheel with each new technical leader coming to site.
Stock Options: A point of discussion is whether the independent consultants should receive some type of stock option compensation.  I have worked in both situations; where I have received stock options and where I haven’t.   Awarding stock options would removed the “independent” nature of the relationship and hence negated the ability to sign off as an independent QP.  In some circumstances, the company may not require the independent consultant to be an independent QP since they fulfill more of an advisory role for the company.   One advantage of awarding stock options is the engineer may become more beholden to the project since he feels it is his project too, rather than simply being an advisor.  Conversely the company may prefer the consultant doesn’t have any direct ownership so that their advice can be viewed as being more independent.   I personally feel that awarding stock options is a good idea to help foster long term commitment from the consultant.
My bottom line is that the small independent consultants have a role to play and should be part of most owner’s teams, whether on the Board or on an Advisory Panel.   The independent consultants can be selected based on their technical specialization (i.e. exploration, resource modelling, mining, metallurgy, environmental) and provide valuable part time guidance to the company.   Please make sure that your consultant is capable; I have seen cases where a member of the advisory panel was actually giving the company bad advice and the others could see it but wouldn’t say anything since it’s not their area.

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