Mining People Matters

Steve Heather

Steve Heather, Managing Director and Co-founder of Mining People International (MPi).

20 years of MPi

Those who made it to our 20th birthday celebration a couple of weeks ago, know that we did not make a formal presentation on the night.

We had planned to, however the night was going along so well – with so many people coming and going throughout the evening – that we didn’t want to stop that flow. 

Prior to the night we had though taken quite some time to put together the words we wanted to say, so here they are below. They underpin how we feel about the people we have met along our journey.

It was an extraordinarily wonderful night and whether you were able to make it or not, you played a part helping us acknowledge MPi’s 20th year.

Firstly allow me a 30 second history lesson.

Way back before starting MPi, one of our founders –  my wife, Sue – owned a small generalist recruitment business.  When we opened MPi for business in January 1994, we continued to build the generalist business.

Both were going well when, a few years later, we made a decision to focus our efforts so we decided to sell the generalist business. Chandler and Macleod, a large Australian recruitment business that some of you would know, bought that business and for the past 15 years we have been solely focussed on, and dependent upon, the far more cyclical mining market. 

And what cycles there have been.

  • We started with three full-time people.
  • At one point, we  had 50 employees, plus just under 200 contract staff across four Australian offices.
  • 12 months later we were back to 25 full time staff.
  • 18 months after that we were back to 50 full time staff.
  • And three years later we are back to 25.

It has been truly one hell of a wild ride!

I’m a Mining Engineer by trade and sometimes we mining engineers make funny (and usually unfair) jokes about Geologists.  Now I wonder whether we are the ones with rocks in our heads.   

So what makes it all worthwhile?

Well when we started MPi, a key element of our mission was the simple aim to make a positive difference to all the people we touched;  be they a client, a candidate, a supplier, a staff member, a family member or a supporter of any form. 

The huge amount of feedback we receive suggests that, en masse, we have done this.

We will strive to KEEP doing this. 

So that’s the compressed history lesson­ – on to the core message.

Rather than spelling out a long corporate history, I have chosen a few short words to say about seven distinct groups who have contributed to our journey.

Firstly our founders:

Those who were there at the beginning – yours truly, my wife Sue Heather (we got married that same year), my university mate from 15 years earlier, Tony Turton, and a long-term friend of Sue’s, Roz Crum. We are one down with the very sad passing of Roz some three years back. However, we’re in no doubt she is wishing us well tonight. 

These people took the initial risk, worked for nought for some months, tentatively paid ourselves a wage, and then sometimes quickly paid it back when we realised we couldn’t afford it yet!

 We shared some amazing, trail-blazing times.

Our other shareholders

Gary Kearns, Brad Thorp and Shane Moore – they all bought and/or took up shares through various programs, usually some years after commencing employment with MPi. 

We have had some amazing times and, more recently, more difficult times.  Through all of these phases, all these founding and newer shareholders have been incredibly supportive. 

Our suppliers and business partners – who do great stuff for us.

They are the extension to our internal team. Long before ‘outsourcing’ became fashionable we recognised the key role they played in our business.

Often the requests we make of our suppliers are completely unreasonable! We have always felt it is critically important to reciprocate these unreasonable requests with loyalty and treating them as if they were this extension to our internal team. We’ve tried our best to make this happen. 

I’m NOT saying we have always got this right but we place high value on long-term relationships and we prioritise them. This is evidenced by the fact that some of our awesome suppliers have been with us since day one and many for more than ten years.

Thank you to all of you.

Our clients – the companies that pay us and the people in those companies.

We figured out a long time ago that the modern corporate entity was not a permanently reliable supplier. It was the individual people in those companies that resonated with us. They respected what we did and we did business at a fair price over a long period of time. Many of them remained our clients as they moved from one company to the next over the years.

The other great thing about this longevity is that we are able to share amazing war stories and exchange memories of all the dragons slayed together. This builds a strong bond that endures, even when facing the latest HIGH DRAMA or when occasionally one of us – sometimes us, sometimes, dare I say, the client – messes up.

Many modern marketers are now declaring that in some sectors ‘business to business’ and even ‘business to consumer’ marketing is finished and that it’s now all ‘people to people’.

I think in a small way we figured this out at the start and embedded it in MPi’s foundations.

So whether you’re one of our wonderful long-term clients, or a newer one, we hope you will be with us for a long period and we’ll certainly work hard to keep you. But we also ask that you keep letting us know when we mess up so that we get a chance to fix it.   

So we thank the companies that have stuck with us for the long-haul and we also offer an extra special thank you, to the individual people who are our long-term clients.  

Our Candidates

These include the people who:

  • Come to us seeking work  
  • We place into permanent roles with our clients  
  • We employ, but effectively sub-contract to our clients.


Many candidates eventually become clients and, in turn, become candidates again.

 Our role is to not only find them a new job, but to assist them work through what is often a fairly stressful transition time in their life.

They continuously trust us to do the right thing.

Importantly, we also want to acknowledge the people who ask us to find them work, but whom we don’t manage to do that for.

Consider this: Each month, we connect with thousands of individual candidates but place between 50 and 100 into jobs that month. 

As you can imagine the potential for disappointment is large.

One story behind our success:

When we started MPi, we surveyed a large candidate group and found out the things that upset them the most. It was shockingly simple. They told us, “No one ever gets back to me after I apply for a job.”

That was it. So we decided, “Okay, we’ll get back to everyone, every time, whether we can help them or not.”

That was pretty much our #1 candidate unique selling proposition 20 years ago.

So, roll forward 20 years.

Every person who is referred to a job, but who does not get that job, is sent a survey and asked a simple question. 

Were you 100% happy with the service you received?”

The thing that comes up more often than any other, over and over again is, “Even though I didn’t get the job, at least you told me, I didn’t get the job. Many other places never tell you.”

The moral of this story is that while lots has changed in 20 years, some things haven’t changed at all.

So I want to thank every one of you that, at some stage, has trusted us to represent you – and not just the 50-100 a month we place, but also the thousands we don’t.     


The 2nd last group – the friends and family of our team

Recruiting, generally, can be a tough gig. 

Couple that with recruiting in the mining industry exclusively, add in the technological changes that have occurred in recent times, and you can imagine why it can be so tough.

When I referred to HIGH DRAMA and slaying dragons before– let me tell you I have built several mining operations.  While I know my memory might be fading, I think  recruiting is seriously tougher!

Being able to share our daily issues with trusted people at home is crucial. 

Without naming names, here are brief stories to demonstrate the unique effort and wisdom that the friends and family of various MPiers have contributed over the years:


  • The father of a young MPi receptionist, listening to his daughter complain that her MPi boss was hassling her for rolling up late. The dad reportedly said Look I’ve checked out their web site and done some reference checks on that company. They’re good people. You bloody-well get back to work and stop your whingeing! I know this is true because the MPi receptionist told me the story during a performance review about a year after it happened.
  • The MPiers who, over time, were offered and bought shares in the business.  In all cases they did so with the emotional and financial support of their families.  This includes the many friends and families who supported us by subscribing for shares when we went through a  public company IPO process. 
  • The numerous friends of staff and their family members who we have invited to various significant milestone events over the years. The effort those people put into getting to those events, often across long distances to support their son or daughter or friend. And, I’m sure at times, they attended just to; ‘check out their bosses’.
  • Everyone who stuck by us in the hard times. At the height of the GFC, just after we sold 51% of MPi to a public company IPO, all hell was breaking loose on financial markets. We were trying to raise money to support what I recall was a more than $50 million weekly payroll for the parent company. A board member of that parent company is here tonight.  I recall he lost several kilograms and I lost the last few black hairs I had through a stressful 10-week period. Through that period I recall my mother saying to me; Oh well. It will all work out, Love, won’t it!” And of course it always does. Thanks, Mum.


Relationships and family ties run deep even in business - in fact especially in small business.

This is a tiny fraction of the often hidden back stories that are rarely heard, but that are just as big a part of the final picture. The truth, though, is that just about every long-term MPi person has a story like these.  I tell you just these few to acknowledge all of them.  

So on behalf of all us here, thank you all, to the friends of family of MPiers here tonight and, of course, to those who aren’t here.

Lastly, but as they say not least, our final group.  

The MPi Team

I want to acknowledge two groups here, the current MPiers and past MPiers. 

By the way, credit goes to Gary Kearns for the term “MPier”, which happened before Google coined the term “Googler”– just for the record. 

When it all goes pear-shaped – and it will – it is our team that are there:

  • in the trenches by our sides
  • for us to retreat to  
  • to help us recharge  
  • to help us put our suit of armour back on
  • to help us get ready to play ball again.

 So to all current and past MPiers, thank you for the part you have played and continue to play in our journey.

In conclusion

When you do something for 20 years:

  • there will be years when times are great
  • there will be years when times are not so great
  • There will other years when you’re wondering if you will make it.


I have this vision of a dump truck on a ROM pad – sorry for the mining lingo – backing up to a crusher and tipping, not gold ore, but money into the crusher and wondering if, when, and in what form, the cash was going to come back out.

Through all this, it is essential that you have some constants to return to.  For us, that is making that difference I spoke about earlier. Again, the feedback we get tells us overwhelmingly that we do this.


So, to whichever of these seven groups you belong, to us you are equally part of the MPi team and you help us make this difference. 

For that we offer you all a massive THANK YOU.

Steve Heather signature
Steve Heather – BAppSc (Mining Engineering) WASM, FRCSA

Managing Director & Principal Executive Search - Mining People International (MPi)

Fellow/National Board Member – Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association Aust. & N.Z. (RCSA)

[email protected]