Enthalpy taps rich vein of expertise in distributed network

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Enthalpy CEO Paul Harper.

The volume and calibre of miners on Enthalpy’s client list speak to the integrity and longevity of the Australian-based advisory firm. CEO Paul Harper says the register also underlines the robustness of the company’s business model.

The brand is built on a worldwide network of “associates” administered out of Enthalpy’s current business hubs in Europe, South America and Australia. It is now moving to establish a managerial presence in Canada to capitalise on positive market reaction to work done on a series of significant projects in North America.

Enthalpy is also looking to recruit new senior personnel in Australia as demand for its core independent review, and emerging project delivery services continue to grow.

Harper, a veteran of more than four decades in mining who joined Enthalpy nearly six years ago, says the opportunities in front of the company are a clear sign of the positive momentum in commodity prices and increasing confidence in stronger-for-longer consumption forecasts for a number of metals. They also reflect the heightened demand for expert external checks and balances around project assessments at a time when miners are trying to more visibly demonstrate improved environmental, social and governance standards, and after the industry demonstrably failed a number of recent high-profile tests of internal process fidelity.

“Five years ago nobody wanted any help in the project delivery space,” Harper says.

“Not long after that we started getting calls for help fixing problem projects.

“We’ve seen schedule and cost blowouts on major projects, all around the world; we’ve seen companies not doing proper reporting – that lack of transparency the industry is trying to correct; and we’ve seen adverse social reactions to environmental, cultural and governance procedural breakdowns.

“We have been able to help recover some of the ground lost on certain projects, and to provide clarity on where and why projects are shifting off course between study phases, and between study and delivery.

“What we’re seeing now is people beginning to realise they need help. And that’s very healthy, I believe. People are now saying, before they have a problem, what do we need to do? These projects don’t always go to plan. One of the biggest failures out there is that expectation that everything will go as planned. Now I think people are becoming more focused on execution readiness and they are saying, we can do a whole lot better.

“On the study side independent reviews are getting a lot more weight than in the past.

“So from a governance point of view, people are asking more questions and seeking the best answers, and that has really opened doors for companies like Enthalpy.

“Our clients have been pleasantly surprised at what we have been bringing to the table.”

In Harper, Enthalpy founder Neil Cusworth, another internationally respected 40-year doyen of the industry, and a core group of principals, the company has diverse skills and experience in a range of key geology, mining, metallurgical and environmental disciplines.

Beyond the inner circle, and boosted by the arrival of people like Harper and his vast contact book, Enthalpy has its associate pool of circa-150 individuals that can be called on to work on projects all over the world.

“I’m probably talking to a new high-quality associate every two weeks,” Harper says.

“We’ve shown we can bring in the expertise clients need and we’ve been able to fill gaps very quickly”

“We can bring on really solid teams to do these independent reviews and due diligence work. We can go from environmental to people who are specialists in geology, metallurgy, and different disciplines within the core fields. We’ve got a whole swag of metallurgists depending on the type of flowsheet on the table.

“We’ve had positive feedback recently on the quality of our [block] caving work, and our tailings expertise.

“We’ve shown we can bring in the expertise clients need and we’ve been able to fill gaps very quickly.

“Of course, we only put the A-team forward.

“But what I’m finding now is our network is strong enough that if we need a French-speaking geologist or engineer or whatever in the middle of Africa, through our network we will find one. We have associates we trust who can recommend people.

“We’ve probably got more capacity than we’re feeding at the moment.”

Pause for thought

At a time when mining has faced a well-documented exodus of experience – post the end of the last boom – and reduced inflow of tertiary graduates, COVID restrictions have cast the industry’s passage to a new “future of work” in an interesting light. Remote operations centres have started the transition. Automation and other technologies look set to hasten the shift. Broader workplace evolution has undoubtedly been given a hurry-up by changes forced on businesses by COVID restrictions of the past two or so years.

Among other things, says Harper, companies and individuals have gained an acute understanding of the value – lost or found – in time spent travelling to and from meetings, site visits and events.

“It stopped clients flying all over the world burning up frequent flyer points,” he says.

“They actually had to stop and think and many started realising they needed help in certain areas.

“I think it’s helped them realise how much work they can do virtually. Though we are aware that in some situations the value of F2F is critical.

“For us, the associate model works very well in a virtual environment.

“We can have a team spread out all over the world, as we have quite often in the due diligence and study processes.

“We’ve also been able to reduce the costs to clients. We don’t have to fly everybody to a mine site. We can actually do a lot of stuff through cameras, and videos and pictures. We’ve got the documentation and can do interviews through Teams meetings, etc. All of a sudden you’re reducing the cost to your client and they’re getting just the same quality if not better because people are making more time to get the answers they want.

“So I see that growing more and more now that people have gotten used to working in that virtual environment.

“I think that’s a big change we’re going to see post the pandemic: more virtual work and fewer people flying around the world.”

As well as growth in North America, Harper sees Enthalpy’s independent review credentials and highly regarded, proprietary Capital Investment System winning more engagements in future with law and financial firms.

Harper says while tier-one miners continue to keep Enthalpy consultants fairly busy on major projects, he is seeing the volume and value of tier-two work building.

“Some tier ones do like our flexible approach and how quickly we can get on with things. But tier-two companies really do tend to value that flexibility. They want you to be nimble and they make decisions faster,” he says.

“Why we win [in competitive tenders] is that we provide high quality teams, and the best processes. We present how we’re going to support the client, how we’re going to report to them, and how we’re going to manage the teams.

“It’s very, very clear how we’re going to go about our work.

“And that’s a key reason why we get a lot of repeat work.”

 

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