Dave Billard, JNR Resources,
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
The Waiting Game
IN THE URANIUM and mineral exploration business, a great discovery can be worth a fortune on the open market. But years can pass before
a project delivers—if it pays off at all.
“In general, it’s a feast-or-famine industry,”
Dave Billard, vice president of exploration and
director of JNR Resources, a uranium exploration
and development company.
To survive those odds, Mr. Billard and his
team rely on a keen understanding of the project portfolio—and a dash of intuition.
“You always have to closely manage the money
you spend on an exploration project,” he says.
“When we run low on funds, we have to choose
what projects we want to focus on and which ones
to put on hold. That takes a combination of gut
feel and science.”
What kinds of projects does your company pursue?
Our current project portfolio includes everything
from prospects we’ve been pursuing since the 1990s
to new ground that we acquired this year. One out
of 1,000 projects we consider is of interest, and one
out of 3,000 becomes economically successful.
How do you deal with such low project
Flexibility is king in this industry. We don’t keep
a large staff and we don’t have a complicated project team hierarchy. We also base all of our project
choices on the funding available. That means being
ready to move forward on a project as soon as we
can see an uptick in financing, and knowing where
we can cut back when times are lean.
We also invest a lot of effort in building relationships with our vendors, team members and
network, so that if we need support when times get
tough, they’re willing to help us out.
How do you choose which projects continue?
As part of every project plan, we assess the geologi-
cal setting and the characteristics of the site. That
gives the team a sense of which projects have the
best chance of success. We also keep track of where
we’ve spent our money in the past and where it
makes the most sense to cut back.
What are some of your biggest project management challenges?
Understanding the value of outsourcing has
been a big lesson for me. There have been many
times where I’ve spent too much time trying to
get things done in-house, instead of outsourcing tasks to someone else. For example, having a
CA$600-a-day geologist setting up the site camp
instead of outsourcing that doesn’t make a lot of
sense. Now I try to identify what elements of the
project the team should do and what would be
more effectively outsourced.
We’ve also learned the value of partnering on
projects. We are working with a partner in Newfoundland, for example, that’s very knowledgeable
about the people and climate in that area, and very
science-focused. If it had just been us, we probably
wouldn’t have this project.
What are your biggest day-to-day project risks?
We face many operational risks. The sites are
remote, often with no road access, so simple
hiccups like the breakdown of a piece of equipment can shut down progress. We manage
these risks through the knowledge and
experience of our team. Experience tells us
to keep spare equipment at the site and to
know in advance who we can call when a
Weather is also a big factor. You can’t fight
weather, but you can be prepared for it by making
sure everyone is safe on the site, and that workers
have the resources to wait it out when necessary.
How involved are you in the daily management
I try to be involved in the daily ebb and flow of
the work. Unless you see firsthand what’s going
on, you have no business saying, “You should have
done this.” But at the same time, I try not to get
overly involved in daily tasks. It’s a balance. PM
is king in this
don’t keep a
large staff and
we don’t have