Interview with Don Taylor of Arizona Mining

Don Taylor is the recipient of the PDAC’s 2018 Thayer Lindsley Award, for the 2014 discovery of the Taylor lead-zinc-silver deposit in Arizona. Don is the Chief Operating Officer of Arizona Mining (TSX:AZ).  I’ve had the pleasure to work with Don and he was gracious enough, as always, to take time with me to help others learn about exploration and project management in mining.  In learning a few things from Don, I’ve found that he truly has the heart of a teacher.

Question: You have been in exploration for many years, worked for Majors and Juniors in many exploration projects.  What makes this project so different?

Answer: I’ve had a couple discoveries like this project, but the Taylor deposit is the first ore body in such a green fields environment.  The other projects usually involved exploring for certain commodities in “known” areas.  The Arizona Mining Hermosa Project doesn’t have any headframes nearby which makes this a pretty unique find.

Question: Finding an ore-body is one thing and taking it in to production is another.  What is the one aspect or aspects of this project that gets you out of bed in the morning?

Answer: That’s why we are in this business, to put 525+ people to work every day for three or more generations.  One of the most satisfying career moments early in my life happened when working at Doe Run.  I’ve never shared this with anyone other than my wife, because she would often ask why I’d get up so early and come back late at night.  It was simple. One day, a young man walked up to me at the mine and that conversation clarified my thinking.  I didn’t know him, but I knew his father.  This young man started the conversation by introducing himself and saying that he’d heard about the most recent discovery our exploration group had delivered to the Company.  He wanted me to know that he sought me out to personally express his gratitude for this opportunity for him and his family.  He finished by thanking me, on behalf of his newborn son, who would also be given an opportunity to become a miner (4th generation).

Question: At this stage in a project, we usually see the geologists exiting to pursue the next bright shiny object. What is the staying power for you at Arizona Mining?

Answer: I’ve Co-managed mines that employed 600 people, so this isn’t my first experience in managing a project of this nature.  The exploration of the Taylor Deeps deposit isn’t finished. We haven’t found the limits of the ore body. There is a lot of allure to see this one out because I think it will get a lot bigger.  My skill set lies with finding and defining deposits which is how this project will benefit from what I’m best at.

Question: What factors do you feel will contribute to delivering this project on time and on budget?

Answer: We have a unique setting in terms of our ownership of the Hermosa project property and the permits that are already in place.   Working well with the different governmental agencies and the State of Arizona will help us deliver this project on time.  We have so much flexibility when it comes to doing things the right way, that I’m comfortable the respective agencies are on-board with our direction and schedule.

Anyone who has ever managed these green field projects knows that it never goes perfectly or as planned.  If we consider all the possibilities and work hard enough to find first principle solutions, we’ll get it done. You’ve probably heard me ask my team to help by saying, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do, tell me how to get the things done we need to do.”

Question: The Hermosa Mining project is like a lightening rod for attention these days for a lot of different reasons.  Many of the people close to the project are very positive.  How are you dealing with the pessimists, if there are any?   

Answer: You will always have opposition when starting a new mine.  I am open and honest with people and understand that I can’t change everyone’s opinion.  If I say I’m going to do something, I deliver.   If you consistently deliver on your word, the other people won’t listen to the pessimists.

Question: Given your years of experience, what one piece of advice would you give to a young exploration geologist just out of school?

Answer: Never be afraid to take that next challenge.  If you are afraid of drilling that hole or missing your target, you are in the wrong sport.

Question: One question I’m asked time and time again, is can Project Management Principals be applied to exploration drilling programs?  The Project Professionals seem to paint the exploration guys as gun slinging cowboys who take potshots with investor money where the Professional Geologists contend they have dynamic plans and schedules.     

Answer: There are those who play loose and fast with investors’ money, but the guys who are repeatedly successful, develop plans, test them, and learn from the results to develop new plans.

The big company exploration teams have trouble finding success because they encounter so many internal roadblocks and have such high financial hurdle rates.  The ability to deliver the desired objective is very difficult as few ore bodies or ore body types start out as world class assets.  Juniors, who have fewer internal issues and smaller hurdle objectives enjoy much more freedom (when funded) to more quickly evaluate difficult projects.  For this reason, juniors often deliver quality projects where the seniors struggle.  Planned and well executed drill programs focused on well thought out targets have better chances of success.

Companies that operate on a combination between the junior/senior company philosophy are most successful.

Written by John F. Gravel