Influential Women in Business: Marcia Smith

Marcia Smith had no experience running a mine – but her boss proved a valuable point by putting her in charge of one

Marcia Smith, Teck Resources’ senior vice-president of sustainability and external affairs, was a public relations entrepreneur before she made a career leap into the mining industry | Chung Chow

Marcia Smith may work for B.C.’s largest mining company, but her background is in public relations, not mine management.

So when her boss, Don Lindsay, CEO of Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B), assigned her to run one of the company’s B.C. coal mines for four months in 2013, it was more than a little daunting.

“It was terrifying and exhilarating and probably the best professional experience of my career,” said Smith, who is Teck’s senior vice-president of sustainability and external affairs. 

The mining sector remains under-represented by women; by putting a woman in charge of Teck’s Line Creek coal mines, Lindsay was trying to prove a point.

“He did it because he wanted to send a message that a woman can do any job in this company,” Smith said. “I think it was a really powerful message for all of us at Teck.”

Smith did not start her professional career with any intention of working for a mine company, although mining is certainly in her blood.

Her father was an accountant who worked for mining companies, so she grew up in a variety of mining communities across Canada, from Ontario to the Yukon, and lived in Nicaragua between the ages of seven and 10.

“It’s like being an army brat,” Smith said. “You move all the time as being part of a mining family.”

Smith even worked summer jobs at mine operations while pursuing an honours bachelor’s degree at Laurentian University, where she majored in political science and English.

After university, she went to work in government communications and later co-founded her own public relations firm.

In the early 1990s, she co-founded Labrador Communications, which was later acquired by National Public Relations. She continued as a managing partner with that firm until joining Teck.

“They had been a longtime client and I admired the company very much, admired Don Lindsay and his leadership,” Smith said. “I was at a stage in my own career – I was 48 – and I thought if I’m going to do one more thing, I should get moving on that.”

So she made the leap from PR to Teck, where she is now responsible for health and safety, environment, communities, First Nations, sustainability and corporate affairs.

One of the sustainability initiatives Smith has worked on is Teck’s acquisition of 7,000 hectares of land in the Elk and Flathead valleys for conservation purposes.

“Teck has made a commitment to have a net positive impact on biodiversity,” she said.

Teck owns five coal mines in the Elk Valley. In 2013, the company invested $19 million acquiring land that it then set aside as a conservation area.

Smith is married but has no children, which allows her to pursue two related hobbies – travelling and photography. Working for a mining company, she has found, is a great career for anyone who enjoys travel, because it takes her to places like Peru.

“It is a fantastic career if you’re a travel bug because you see a lot of the world.”

It was while Smith was in Beijing, where Teck has an office, that she learned about Educating Girls of Rural China, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young women attend high school and university.

Smith sits on the organization’s board of directors. She also sits on the executive committee of the Business Council of British Columbia and the executive committee for the Mining Association of Canada.

In addition to being recognized this year with an Influential Women in Business Award, Smith also made Women’s Executive Network’s 2015 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 list.

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