May 20, 2019 - One on One
One-on-one with Eric Desaulniers CEO since 2011 of Nouveau Monde Graphite, a mineral exploration company which holds mining claims in the province of Québec with the objective of discovering major ore deposits.
1. What led you to become president of Nouveau Monde Graphite?
As a physicist + geologist, you might say that I wasn’t predestined to become a CEO. But my expertise and audacity pushed me to look into new technology, and explore an underestimated sector in Quebec’s subsoil. The result? A world-class graphite deposit.
I founded the company and was alone for a while, until I could appoint a team – and watch the project mushroom. They don’t teach you how to be a CEO in school. You decide whether you like it, whether you’re competent, and whether your team clicks
– all while on the job.
In my work, I’m surrounded by people with thirty years of experience in specialized trades. When I read their profiles, I realize how different I am. No better, but very different in the sense that I have a personality that can handle a lot of pressure and one that’s also very interested in every department at the company. Just call me a generalist. If you want to be CEO, I think it’s essential to have an interest in all aspects of the organization: communication, graphite mining, and human resources. Otherwise, you’ll have an unhappy CEO, and when the CEO is unhappy and uninterested, it shows. Unfortunately, they become incompetent.
2. What does professional success look like to you?
On a personal level, success is work/family balance and the joy I feel at work every day. It also makes me very happy to the importance people attribute to the project in Saint-Michel-des-Saints, and to see my kids filled with pride whenever they come to the site, or we visit a Tesla factory as a family.
On a professional level, we haven’t yet achieved our goals as a company. The next two years will be crucial as we bring our vision to life, generate profits, and bring our investors attractive returns. Armed with an expert team of specialists – that we brought together ourselves – I’m confident we’ll meet our objectives. The team itself, in terms of the board, shareholders, the executive, and company employees, it’s a human success story that will transform into commercial success.
3. What have you learned about yourself since becoming CEO?
I’ve learned that I need to regenerate myself every year; it’s something I’m passionate about. From 2012 to 2015, I was looking for funding to uncover a mining deposit. When we got it, we entered a new phase of development, which meant bringing in a team of specialists. With every step, I’m forced to adjust my career, and it makes me happy. A mining project takes about twelve years to complete. In our case, we’ll manage to have it completed in seven to seven and a half years, but it will be an obstacle course. I know I’ll have to continue developing and reinventing myself when needed – for example, when I recruit a VP of construction who spent the last 21 years at ArcelorMittal, I need to sound knowledgeable. I want him to enjoy working for us, driven by the vision and expertise behind the company.
I’ve also realized – and been told – that my main quality is resilience. When the company’s bank account is bone dry, for example, we have to jump back into funding mode, stay the course and keep our heads to the ground. We can’t get discouraged. Things have almost come to a complete halt a few times, just like that, but I rolled up my sleeves and forged ahead. Today I know that we can overcome just about any obstacle.
4. What motivates and inspires you on a daily basis?
Right now, we’re very fortunate because the company and the project are supported by many people who believe in what we’re doing. That’s what gets me to work in the morning. The significant growth challenges motivate me too. It’s crucial, not only that our stakeholders profit from their investment, but that the economy also profits in terms of job creation. In Quebec, we’re privileged to have leadership as well as public and private players on board as we work towards the electrification of transportation – the natural graphite flakes we’re extracting and processing are directly linked. We have fantastic investors who want to continue to invest, and we have a mining project we can proudly say is good for the planet. Because the project will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% percent with respect to the material we’ll be providing lithium–ion battery manufacturers. We’re part of a circular, responsible and durable economy: the best inspiration there is.
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