AU’s Rising Star leads change in Canada’s mining industry
When Shastri Ramnath enrolled in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Athabasca University (AU), she wasn’t setting out to make transformative changes in Canada’s mining industry.
But since completing the program in 2012, the self-styled “over-educated geopreneur” has co-founded a company, Orix Geoscience Inc., which is helping to do just that. Not only has its innovative business model been a resounding success, she has made diversity a priority in an industry that has historically been dominated by men.
“Our company has 60-plus employees, and we’ve had gender parity since Day 1. Our team is very proud that we have grown the company organically by attracting a young and diverse team,” she said. “Not only did we build a sustainable business in one of the toughest mining industry downturns, but we did it in a way that has not been done before.”
The goal of having a young, diverse workforce in a mining consulting company was in and of itself an innovative idea, and one Ramnath is rightly proud of, but her company’s innovative business model attracted a fair share of doubt. The idea is that her company would do geological compilation and interpretation in exchange for equity, rather than cash payments.
“Everybody kept saying ‘You’re going to fail,’ or my favourite was, ‘You’re going to go bankrupt and then get sued,’” she said with a hearty laugh. “We thought let’s stop telling people our idea. Let’s just do it.”
History has proven the naysayers wrong, as Orix Geoscience Inc., and another company she founded called Exiro Minerals Corp., have been resoundingly successful.
But more importantly for Ramnath, she has been able to create the kind of workplace culture she wanted—where people are friendly, want to come in to work each day, and feel empowered to pursue professional development opportunities.
“If you create a great culture, you’ll attract the best people and they’ll stay longer. And when they leave, the focus should be on getting another great person to come in,” she said. “Culture is what is all comes down to. It makes it easier to attract new talent.”
These innovative approaches have earned her accolades as she was a finalist for the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Momentum Award and the business has garnered recognition from media outlets including the Globe and Mail.
And Ramnath said none of it would have been possible without AU.
She realized early on in her post-secondary career that geology was a subject that really appealed to her. After finishing a bachelor of science in geological sciences from the University of Manitoba in 1999, the industry was in rough shape thanks in part to controversies surrounding the company Bre-X and fraudulent gold samples.
Wanting to travel, she decided to pursue a master of science in exploration geology from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. With this degree under her belt, she found work as a geologist with FNX Mining Ltd. In Sudbury, Ont., where she held progressively responsible roles over the next decade.
But looking around at her peers, Ramnath realized that many of them also had master’s-level degrees in sciences. She felt an MBA would set her apart, and it was also a natural fit because she always had an interest in business and wanted to better understand that side of the industry.
Ramnath set out to get an MBA as a way to advance her career. Having heard good things from people she knew about AU’s program, and realizing that while she wanted another degree, she couldn’t quit her job to sit in a bricks-and-mortar school, she decided to enroll.
During one of her last courses titled Entrepreneurial and Visionary Thinking, she realized that she fit the textbook description of a successful entrepreneur—a person who is always coming up with new ideas, has a high-risk tolerance, and is often the offspring of immigrant parents who come to Canada and run entrepreneurial businesses while ensuring their children receive post-secondary education.
“I thought doing an MBA would set me apart and open some doors on the business side,” she said. “But it actually changed my life in a way that I hadn’t even realized would happen.”
It didn’t take long for her to put her newfound entrepreneurial spirit to work. By the end of that class she had lined up an interview with someone in Toronto about launching a company, and within three months she had quit her job of eight years to set out on her own.
“I look back now and can’t even believe it,” she said. “I saw an opportunity that I had to take.”