Barbara Dunfield

Elementary teacher turned broker turned resource industry executive

Barbara Dunfield, CFO of Newport Exploration and Sennen Potash; "somewhere along the line we have all been extended a hand, whether it's improved your lifestyle or just the conditions in your life"

The resource industry is a truly international business. The world's rocks don't claim their owners, so mining companies that find promising deposits routinely work in far-flung international locales.

As a longtime executive in Vancouver's resource industry, Barbara Dunfield has enjoyed the travel opportunities it offers. From evaluating oil and gas projects in Australia to gold developments in Bolivia, Dunfield has seen a lot.

But as a teenager growing up in West Point Grey, Dunfield had plans for a different career path: she wanted to be a teacher. And for a brief time, at West Vancouver's Pauline Johnson elementary school, that's what Dunfield did.

With some classroom experience under her belt, Dunfield enrolled in university in Montpellier, France, with the aim of becoming a French teacher once she returned to British Columbia.

But things didn't quite work out that way.

"It was an interesting turn of events, as all things are," said Dunfield. "You turn left, then right throughout your career."

Dunfield never finished her studies in France. She worked as a ski instructor in St. Moritz for a while but came home without the credentials she had planned on attaining.

That's when everything changed, said Dunfield.

She took a job as a receptionist at Vancouver brokerage house C.M. Oliver and loved it. The energy at the firm was contagious, and Dunfield quickly realized she had an entrepreneurial streak. To join the ranks of brokers at the firm, Dunfield wrote her Canadian Securities Course.

After years working as a broker – Dunfield also worked for Canaccord Genuity – the market went soft.

It had been a solid career, she said, but it was time to move on.

Dunfield was offered the chance to take a fledgling junior resource company public, and she jumped at the opportunity.

"I was very aware of how to fund public companies. I knew those markets," said Dunfield. "This was a new challenge, but I thought it was something I could do. For the next few years we moved it from a small junior exploration company to a large gold company."

Dunfield was president and chief executive officer of the Toronto Stock Exchange-listed company, Essex Resources Corp.

After building Essex into a big-board success, it was time for another challenge: graduate school. Regulations for publicly traded companies had changed. Chief financial officers and others in executive positions had to have a financial designation. So Dunfield enrolled in Simon Fraser University's (SFU) Beedie School of Business to get her MBA, and just as she had with each of the previous opportunities in her life, Dunfield threw herself into her new role.

Daniel Shapiro, dean of the Beedie School of Business, lauded Dunfield for "quiet leadership" as a student at SFU.

"I taught Barbara. My guess is a lot of people in town haven't heard of her, but when you get to know her and how she goes about things, she commands respect," said Shapiro.

"I have long admired her."

In addition to her academic and corporate success, Dunfield, who currently holds CFO positions at Newport Exploration Ltd. (TSX-V:NWX) and Sennen Potash Corp. (TSX-V:SN), participates in a host of philanthropic causes.

Dunfield is a supporter of British Columbia Children's Hospital and the Minerva Foundation, has ridden in the Ride to Conquer Cancer and has built homes in Laos and sanitary systems in Nicaragua.

She has also established the Barbara Dunfield International Business Competition Team Sponsorship Fund, which supports students who want to compete in international business challenges.

Lifelong friend Bill Lipsin, a senior vice-president at U.S. technology firm Brocade (Nasdaq:BRCD), said he's in awe of how Dunfield can juggle so many commitments, both professional and philanthropic, but still deliver high quality work.

"She will sacrifice herself to deliver on commitments. She is extremely hard-working," said Lipsin. "But most importantly, we have known each other since elementary school, and we continue to have an enduring friendship because of the way she treats people. You want to be her friend."

Dunfield, on the other hand, has a more self-effacing take on her hectic schedule. She holds a number of demanding positions and participates in many organizations, but Dunfield said it's not as hard as it sounds. And any help she can offer is well worth the few extra hours.

"I feel very strongly about giving people a leg up. When you get the opportunity to do that, you should do that," said Dunfield.

"Somewhere along the line we have all been extended a hand, whether it's improved your lifestyle or just the conditions in your life. It's not really hard to do, and it doesn't take that much time." •

For more information on our March 5 gala luncheon event celebrating this year's Influential Women in Business, click here.