Vancouver-based Callinex Mines Inc. specializes in copper and zinc, but its CEO, Max Porterfield, comes from a place that is synonymous with another commodity: oil.
Born in Odessa, Texas, in 1984, Porterfield is from the region that lent its name to West Texas Intermediate, a grade of crude oil used in benchmark oil pricing. Porterfield, 33, who was raised in San Antonio, said the area left an impression on him, but at first his mind was occupied less with what could be found under the ground than what was far above it.
“I wanted to be an astronaut, so much so that I was in a rocketry program, and I was on a team as a kid where we learned to track a space satellite as it moved over Texas and communicated with the actual astronauts,” Porterfield said. “It was the first time it was ever televised.”
While in sixth grade, Porterfield got a taste for another possible career path. His math teacher instructed the class to pick a stock and track its market performance.
“No other math class probably did that at that time,” he said. “And I also ended up, through middle school and high school, being in this more advanced statistics and math program during the summer for code math and logic classes.”
Porterfield said the seed was planted, and his father helped cultivate his interest, letting him invest some of his bar mitzvah money into stocks. The allure of playing the stock market was simple: “I just wanted to make some money.”
Porterfield graduated from Texas Tech University in Lubbock in 2006 with a bachelor of business administration, focusing on marketing and management.
It was then that Porterfield finally got pulled into the world of oil, landing a job with U.S. Global Investors, a San Antonio-based investment management company that has a long history of working in the natural resource sector.
However, the market was about to nosedive, and Porterfield’s initiation into the industry was a trial by fire.
“I came in August 2006, and the firm’s fund had peaked at seven billion. And then the financial crisis hit pretty quickly thereafter and, obviously, the natural resources base got decimated. So being able to withstand a down market and a financial collapse – I definitely think it builds character, learning that things are not always great.”
Porterfield said it also helped build resilience into his outlook on life that he’s used in his professions.
“When you’re fielding calls from companies asking what they should do, and they say to you that they’ve already puked in their trash can a few times that day, it’s definitely a sobering conversation to have … being a 22-year-old and never having gone through anything like that before.”
Porterfield said he pulled 12-hour days during the crisis. It didn’t hurt his rapid rise up the company ladder, and by 2008 he was vice-president for U.S. Global Investors’ West Coast region and institutional services division.
However, Porterfield was looking for a break from the finance industry and wanted a change of scenery.
Porterfield had three cities on his list of possible new stomping grounds – San Francisco, Denver and Vancouver.
“I’d been to Vancouver a couple of times, obviously always in the summer, and it just struck me as a beautiful place,” he recalled. “I’m naturally an explorer, and I’ve been to a lot of different places. I just thought that where I wanted to take my life was bigger than Texas. With that being said, I absolutely love Texas. If anyone asks me where I’m from I don’t say I’m an American; I say I’m a Texan.”
He chose Vancouver, and in March 2012 he took a job with the Uranium Energy Corp. (NYSE:UEC) as investor relations manager. Porterfield had some experience handling funds for mining companies, but now he was working for one.
He also worked at the same time for Brazil Resources Inc. for two years as its investor relations manager.
He said the switch to managing resources extraction was interesting, especially since over the past few years mining has been one of the most unpredictable industries.
“You have to be able to manage big moves and the ups and downs. It’s very volatile – the highs are high and the lows are low. And there’s the whole macro environment and a lot of things are out of your control, and the odds of success are very, very slim.”
Porterfield said his experience working for Global Investors during the downturn proved valuable as he navigated his new chosen sector.
He heard about Callinex through his professional network, and saw a chance to take mentorship from its interim leader, Mike Muzylowski, who still serves as its chairman and is now in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.
“Surrounding yourself with successful people can help you be successful in your own right,” Porterfield said. “And that’s what really attracted me to Callinex, was the opportunity to work with Mike.”
At 33, Porterfield is one of the youngest leaders in the Canadian mining industry. Jordan Butler, Callinex’s vice-president of corporate development, called Porterfield’s approach to the business “tenacious.”
“He also has a good understanding of the importance of surrounding himself with individuals that will assist in achieving success in these endeavours,” Butler said.
Porterfield said he had some trepidation about taking the top job within the company, but he’s learned how to manage the role with equanimity.
“When you’re in the hot seat, you just kind of take it as it comes to you.” •
Inside Information: Max Porterfield
The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich by Daniel Ammann
First music bought or downloaded:
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up:
Profession you would most like to try:
Toughest business or professional decision:
Moving to Vancouver
Advice you would give the younger you:
Stick with your conviction regardless of how unpopular it may be to others looking in
What’s left to do:
Leading our team to making a world-class discovery