Maximizing Success in Exploration: Errol Smart’s Cornerstones of Mining Excellence

Errol Smart | Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer
Errol Smart | Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer

Errol Smart, a dynamic leader with over 30 years of experience, navigates uncharted terrains seamlessly. As a registered Professional Natural Scientist, he guides Orion Minerals Ltd as its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, blending geological expertise with corporate acumen to spearhead innovation and excellence in the mining industry.

His journey is evidence of a wealth of industry insights, encompassing exploration, mine development and operation. Errol is the architect behind the scenes, managing the intricacies of due diligence investigations for mergers and acquisitions, skillfully negotiating agreements and overseeing the complexities of project management.

Errol’s expertise extends to the valuation of mineral properties, business plan development and small to medium-scale mine planning. As the guiding light, he oversees JORC, SAMREC and NI43-101 reports ensuring the combination of technical precision and strategic vision. His role transcends the boardroom, reaching into the heart of geological exploration programs and metal accounting investigations.

Beyond the technical realms, Errol’s influence is reflected in his commitment to mentoring and advising, offering inspiration to those entering the industry. He serves on the board of the Minerals Council South Africa. Errol is the Chair of the Junior Mining Leadership Forum, fostering a collaborative environment for emerging leaders.

Let’s delve into Errol’s narrative, filled with diverse experiences that are etched into the mining landscape ensuring a legacy of innovation and excellence!

Mentorship, Resilience and Strategic Alignment

Errol’s journey unfolds with lessons that resonate universally. “One’s greatest successes and failures are often framed by both one’s superiors and one’s subordinates,” he notes. In the cutthroat corporate world, the alignment of these groups can propel a team to extraordinary heights or, conversely, plunge it into disarray.

Errol vividly recalls a pivotal early career encounter with a toxic training manager, a figure embodying the dark side of corporate dynamics. “His bullying and oppressive behaviour epitomized the toxic characteristics,” Errol reflects, highlighting the pervasive challenge of navigating such negativity in large organizations.

On the brink of leaving the mining industry due to this toxic clash, Errol made a crucial decision. “I reached out to a shining light, a senior manager who became my leadership mentor,” he recounts. This turning point unveiled the power of focusing on positive influences amid adversity. Shining lights, with their innate leadership acumen, not only identify talent but also serve as natural mentors. “Their behaviour and management styles are constructive and supportive,” Errol observes, emphasizing the ripple effect of such mentorship.

Errol’s career trajectory took a transformative turn as he confronted the negative manager with the support of his shining light mentor. The ensuing ripples resonated in the corporate environment, drawing the attention of other shining lights. Networking with these influential figures became a catalyst for Errol’s career growth, solidifying his commitment to identifying and supporting emerging talents.

A second pivotal moment saw Errol recognizing that the rigid corporate world wasn’t his fit. Guided by his shining light mentor, he transitioned to Cluff Mining, a junior mining start-up with a refreshing ethos. “Flat management structures, respect for all and encouragement for entrepreneurial spirit defined the environment,” Errol notes. In this smaller company, the value of a supportive team structure became evident. “Smaller companies have less room for dead driftwood,” Errol remarks, underscoring the importance of fostering a collaborative and dynamic team.

The third crucial lesson unfolded at Cluff, where Errol gained insights into investor dynamics in the junior exploration and mining industry. “To be successful, one had to align investors with matching objectives to management teams with matching assets,” Errol stresses acknowledging the delicate balance required for success. Bridging the gap between investor expectations and operational realities emerged as a vital skill for navigating this sector.

Errol’s narrative serves as a compass for professionals navigating the complex corporate landscape. The significance of identifying and aligning with shining lights, seeking environments conducive to personal growth along with understanding the dynamics between investors and management teams are timeless lessons. Errol’s journey stands as an embodiment of the transformative power of mentorship, self-awareness and strategic alignment in the pursuit of a successful and fulfilling career.

Elevating Teams

In Errol’s career ascent from a technical role, he emphasizes the value of his journey. “I started my career in a technical position and had to work my way up through the ranks,” he reflects. His broad technical exposure enables him to engage in meaningful discussions with his team, testing hypotheses for optimal solutions. Errol acknowledges the importance of practical experience, stating: “The insight, advice and guidance that I give is based on real experience.” Recognizing the team’s limitations, he actively seeks external expertise, affirming, “I try to recognize what we don’t know and find the appropriate expertise to add skills to the team.”

Errol’s strategic approach involves a delicate balance, as he explains, “Balancing the technical demands with the broader strategic vision requires a balance between in-house development and external skill supplementation.” He challenges team members to reach higher goals while supplementing with external expertise where in-house skills fall short ensuring a dynamic and rapidly evolving team.

Innovation in Stone

In Errol’s world, geology is the ‘art of science,’ a realm where absolute, immovable facts are scarce. “A geologist has to think out of the box and be open-minded, borrowing from a broad base of learnings to find the ‘best fit’ solution,” he asserts. This philosophy extends to his leadership style urging his team to embrace broad-mindedness and innovation constantly seeking optimal solutions rooted in collective experience.

Errol advocates for a collaborative approach, emphasizing: “I also encourage our team to network and share learnings because an expanded network is a great library to draw from.” In the intricate world of geology and leadership, Errol’s approach underscores the value of open-mindedness, innovation and a collaborative network for continual learning and improvement.

Resilience in Action

Errol’s mentoring philosophy is grounded in humility, “Firstly, I never assume that I am the mentor, we are all sharing experiences with each other to gain enlightenment.” He highlights the reciprocal nature of learning, emphasizing that even seasoned mentors can benefit from studying a student’s experiences.

Having navigated a career rich in diverse projects and people, Errol reflects on his journey, “I have gained a mountain of experiences including spectacular successes and failures that others may learn from.” His willingness to share these experiences is an invitation for others to gain valuable insights.

Amidst the ebb and flow of professional challenges, Errol champions resilience, “But, most of all, I encourage members of the forum to be resilient, never give up, to always back their teams and themselves – and to persevere.” He acknowledges the formidable obstacles winners face, urging perseverance in the face of adversity.

Errol’s key takeaway echoes with wisdom and he shares, “Most importantly one must realize that a failure is only a total failure if one fails to learn from the experience.” In Errol’s narrative, failure becomes a stepping stone to success underscoring the importance of continuous learning and growth.

Project Development Realities

Errol’s wisdom is clear: “Success comes from not just finding any money for a project, it has to be the right money with investors’ aspirations matching the project timeline and development pathway.”

In navigating the intricate landscape of project financing, he underscores the pitfalls of unrealistic expectations and misaligned goals, stating: “Unrealistic expectations and non-aligned goals and objectives are a clear path to painful failure, even with the best projects.” Errol’s experience serves as a guiding light urging a strategic alignment between investors and project parameters for enduring success in the realm of project development.

Overcoming the Threat

Errol unveils the ‘Orion Moral Compass,’ emphasizing a team built on complementarity and shared values. “With those characteristics at our core, the path always opens up as required to deliver a desired outcome.”

Navigating the corporate landscape, Errol underscores the simplicity of success, “By simply doing the ‘right thing’ with all stakeholders, the flow becomes less turbulent and easier to navigate.” However, he cautions against the threat of toxic personalities. Recognizing that some toxic personalities are threatened by someone doing the right thing is important for survival.

Errol identifies the challenge posed by these negative influences. The selfish needs of toxic personalities breed negative leadership and derive profit from disorder. Overcoming this threat demands recognition and decisive action, as toxic challenges require significant effort and willpower to neutralize.

Challenges in Compliance

Errol simplifies the Orion Moral Compass as ‘simply doing the right thing. This straightforward approach is not only transparent to an honest audience but also resonates with stakeholders. However, he expresses frustration with compliance and reporting for junior mining companies. The compliance gurus have become overly prescriptive and rigid.

Errol believes this unintended consequence hampers the ability to keep investors well-informed. Investors in exploration and development seek unique opportunities but rigid reporting often falls short. “If we can only state the risk-free, rigid facts then often the opportunity cannot be adequately communicated,” Errol laments. The challenge lies in ensuring that investors with risk appetites have access to the information needed to make informed decisions highlighting the delicate balance required in compliance for the world of junior mining.

Aligning the Moral Compass

Errol proudly reflects on Orion’s commitment to doing the ‘right thing’ and its consequential recognition with multiple ESG awards. In 2020, AAMEG bestowed Orion with the Emerging ESG Leader Award for a significant positive impact in the Northern Cape. In 2022, Orion clinched the Junior ESG Award at the Investing in Mining Indaba acknowledging their efforts in establishing enhanced labor standards. This year, AAMEG once again recognized Orion with the Emerging ESG Leader Award for a Resource Exploration or Development Company commending their innovative Community Participation Framework at the Prieska Copper Zinc Mine.

Errol emphasizes that ESG is not just a corporate responsibility but a business and moral imperative. He hopes Orion’s approach inspires a new wave of emerging mining companies dedicated to ethical practices from the outset. The awards, in Errol’s words, serve as an acknowledgment that the ‘moral compass’ is accurately aligned at Orion reaffirming their commitment to excellence and ethical conduct in the mining industry.

Dedication, Camaraderie and Diligence

Errol’s team is a collection of shared experiences, with a leader who ‘never gives up’ and believes in the power of dedication and hard work. As Errol notes, the most challenging times often deliver the greatest opportunities, urging the team to focus on the potential beyond challenges. Despite hard work, he emphasizes the importance of camaraderie, “While we work very hard, we have to take some time to share a little fun, socialize and touch base with each other.”

Errol recognizes the potency of laughter in overcoming challenges. The most challenging problems are often first weakened by a little laughter, before being overcome by a positive attitude. However, he draws a clear line, stating: “Having said that, I am intolerant of sloth and laziness,” underscoring the expectation for diligence amid the pursuit of success.

Transforming Together

Errol takes pride in the Junior and Emerging Mining and Exploration Leadership Forum at the Minerals Council South Africa, noting, “I am quite proud of the rapidly growing forum.” As the chair for the past six years, he sees his role as instrumental in shaping junior mining companies into a respected industry representative body: “I would like to believe that I have played a leadership role.” This formal organization has empowered junior mining to engage with government departments and influence the mining regulatory landscape in South Africa.

Reflecting on the forum’s dynamics, Errol finds inspiration in the camaraderie among leaders: “I am truly inspired by the leaders sharing the forum with me.” He views their interactions as a form of “collective, mutual mentorship, rather than me mentoring others.” This collaborative approach signifies a powerful force for overcoming significant challenges in the mining sector, underlining the importance of shared leadership and collective mentorship in steering the industry toward positive transformation.

Knowledge is Power

Errol emphasizes continuous learning for industry professionals, stating: “They need to identify current and future challenges while continually searching the global landscape for possible solutions.” Networking becomes a cornerstone, being prepared to share knowledge opens the path to knowledge.

In the intricate world of exploration and mining, he underscores the importance of interdepartmental collaboration. The exploration and mining ‘machine’ needs all its gears aligned and meshed to exert maximum force. Errol warns against the potential impact of individual knowledge hoarding, some really knowledgeable professionals can undermine the success of a team by simply withdrawing or refusing to get on with the other members. His insights serve as a guiding principle, advocating for a collaborative and knowledge-sharing approach to maximize success in the industry.