Norman Bell Keevil (Canadian Mining Hall of Fame)

By James Kwantes, World of Mining

Second in a series (Read Part 1 here)

“Opportunity can go by in a day.”
Norman Bell Keevil, Sr.

Norman Bell Keevil was born on a Saskatchewan farm in 1910. In his first life, Keevil was an academic, studying math, chemistry and geology at the University of Saskatchewan before getting his PhD at Harvard. His pioneering work in uranium and thorium was of such quality that he got an invitation to work on the Manhattan Project.

That didn’t pan out. And in his second life, after he had made the switch from academia to the business world, few of the things he built blew up – even in the volatile world of mining exploration and mine-building. Keevil was president and CEO of Teck from 1963 to 1981, when he became chairman. By that time, the company was a mining powerhouse producing gold, copper, zinc, coal and molybdenum.

After the Second World War, Keevil bought the Canadian rights to the U.S. Navy’s magnetic airborne detectors, used to find enemy subs. He went to work with them in 1946 and 1947 and discovered a very large magnetic anomaly near Kirkland Lake, Ontario. He staked the property, drilled it and wasn’t disappointed – one of the drill holes hit 28% copper over 58 feet.

Frustrated with various joint ventures on the property with major mining companies, Keevil founded the TSE-listed Temagami Mining Company. The deposit he discovered would become the Temagami copper mine, which produced Canada’s purest copper ore and was the cornerstone of Keevil’s empire until it closed in 1972.

Keevil had scientific cred in spades but he also showed a flair for promotion, even before he relocated to Vancouver. Just before Temagami opened, he brought in a planeload of geologists, investors and brokers to tour the mine. “A freak of nature had exposed a 150-foot vein of pure copper to the air, so he paid $500 for a tombstone firm from Port Credit to polish the copper until it shone,” according to Fleecing the Lamb, a history of the Vancouver Stock Exchange written by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths. Keevil instructed the pilot to fly in so the sun reflected off the vein. Within days, Temagami stock had rocketed from 25 cents to $9 a share.

Keevil – and later his son, Dr. Norman B. Keevil, the current chairman of Teck – developed a reputation for dealing fairly with junior exploration companies. Teck had holdings in dozens of mining juniors but Keevil whittled that down to about 30 companies and embarked on a decade of aggressive mine-building from 1975 to 1985. He brought seven mines into production in those 10 years, including the Hemlo David Bell gold mine, on which he partnered with Murray Pezim.

Keevil persisted on the expansion even through a debt scare in 1981, when Teck was overextended as a recession hit. (History rhymed in 2008-09 when debt-laden Teck – which had taken over Fording Coal for $14 billion just before the financial crisis hit – sold 17% of the company to China during a near-death experience).

Keevil died at the age of 78 in 1989, his position as a Canadian mining and business legend secure due to his ability to find mineral deposits, finance and bring them into production, and then run the growing empire that resulted.

His son, Dr. Norman B. Keevil, is a Canadian mining icon in his own right. The younger Keevil joined Teck in 1962 as vice-president of exploration, was president and CEO for 20 years and was named non-executive chairman in 2001. He was inducted to the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 2004.

As for Teck, it is North America’s largest producer of metallurgical coal, the world’s third largest producer of zinc and a copper heavyweight with a major oilsands presence.

The stock has been chopped in half from its 2010 all-time high as growth slows in China and a global recession shows no signs of easing. However, the company’s dividend keeps on increasing and its $3.6 billion in cash as of June 30 is an enviable pile of dry powder. At $29 a share, Teck’s market cap is about $17 billion.

In the second quarter, Teck reported adjusted profit of $325 million and cash flow from operations of $725 million. Q3 results are scheduled to land Oct. 24.

Source: World of Mining