SMR: You’ve been with WesTech for 27 years. What do you find so unique about this company, its culture or its mission, that you’ve spent your career here?
RP: WesTech’s core purpose and core values resonated strongly with me when I joined them 27 years ago, and continue to set WesTech apart now. Our core purpose is reflective of our employees’ passion in using our expertise to improve the quality of life for people across the globe. We love making a difference! I had also rarely seen a company where the core values, including honesty and integrity, doing the right thing, and providing superior service, are emphasized more than company profits.
This unique culture has endured the test of time due, in large part, to the fact that the owners of WesTech are the employees. The founders of WesTech set the example that the more you are willing to share, the more that will eventually come back to you. This resulted in a philosophy that puts long-term decisions over short-term, and a willingness to go to great lengths to understand and meet the needs of our customers. I was recruited by other companies, but none of them made the deep impression on me that WesTech did. I’ve never regretted my decision to join WesTech.
SMR: What do you wish lay people knew about water, water access or water treatment? How can the industry best convey that message to the public? What can/will WesTech do to inform people?
RP: Think of the impact water has on so much of our lives; whether it is the water we drink to sustain our very lives, or the process water in industries that provide food, energy, and most of the goods we purchase. Water is such a precious commodity. There is a saying: ‘a lake of gold in the desert sand is worth less than a cool fresh spring.’ Only 2.5% of the water in the world is fresh water. We need to be wise stewards of the water we have. It needs to be protected, used, treated, and used again and again – especially in large-volume water-consuming industries, such as the energy and minerals industries. The minerals industry contributes so much to the quality of life we all enjoy, and also requires large quantities of water. We are grateful for the willingness of this publication to facilitate this educational process.
SMR: How will you as CEO and President incorporate the vision and goals of previous leaders? What will you change?
RP: WesTech’s past leaders have been passionate about building the company on responsiveness to customers, on our core values and core purpose of benefitting humanity, all within the framework of employee ownership. Their vision and leadership have resulted in a solid reputation, impressive growth, and long-term sustainability of WesTech. Those things will not change.
The changes that I intend to lead include a focus on incorporating practices and technologies that will make our products and services even more competitive so that more people and industries across the world will benefit from them. Change is necessary in any company over time. The required rate of change, however, is increasing as technologies, market conditions, and user needs progress much more rapidly than in the past. We need to become more comfortable with change in these areas. WesTech’s mineral customers will be a key focus in our current and future endeavors.
SMR: What is the biggest challenge you see for the company and the industry going forward? What moves can be made now to help meet that challenge?
RP: Over the 40 years WesTech has been in this industry, we’ve experienced and worked through an abundance of challenges. As a company, we try to look far enough ahead to anticipate and prepare for them when (or if) they come. We are currently preparing for anticipated challenges by focusing on innovative approaches to reduce costs to our customers. These are in the form of innovations in equipment designs and treatment processes for better performance or lower costs, as well as in innovations in efficiencies along the entire inquiry-to-delivery value chain. We believe that as the costs to mine and process minerals go down, more mineral deposits will become financially viable, giving new opportunities and hope to minerals companies and nations in need.
I think the biggest challenges we are and will be facing as an industry are tied to global political stability and its resultant effect on the global economies. There are some viable deposits that are not exploited due to fears that capital investments will be nationalized. These things affect the short-term need and supply for minerals as a whole. There will always be an ongoing long-term need for global minerals, but knowing how to manage the peaks and valleys and the surprises that are inherent in today’s economy and in this industry will be a big challenge.
SMR: What new technologies do you foresee for the industry in the next five years? Ten years? What possibilities do you find most exciting?
RP: I don’t have a crystal ball that extends out to ten years, but I’ve been around long enough to know that there are times when exciting developments permeate the industry and shake up accepted processes and players. For example, I believe there are some mineral areas that would benefit from biological processing options in addition to, or in lieu of, the common mechanical methods.
At the same time, ours is a slow-moving market. Customers like to adopt exciting new technology that has at least a ten-year proven track record and dozens of installations. So I think in the shorter-term, most changes will be incremental improvements to already-accepted technology. Our Thickener Optimization Package is an example of that. We’ve added innovative features to the thickener to provide a more efficient and effective process solution.
SMR: You have a master's in mining engineering. Can you tell us a little bit more about your mining background?
RP: I grew up in Utah, which has a rich and diverse mining history. We have large mining operations in coal, copper, precious metals, uranium, aggregate, and many other mineral sectors where neighbors and friends worked. As a boy, I seemed to enjoy digging holes and making tunnels with my friends – just for fun. The University of Utah has an excellent Mining Engineering program, and I felt privileged to be accepted to it. At the time of completion of my undergraduate degree, I had an interest in developing a greater expertise in the area of coal gasification, for improved safety conditions of the underground coal miners, as well as utilization of a great source of energy. I ended up studying and doing my research for my Master’s degree in Aachen, Germany, and while there working with several mines and mine institutes throughout Europe. I felt it an incredible and rare educational experience.
Many of my assignments at WesTech have been in support of minerals projects all around the world.
SMR: What is the history of WesTech's mineral division?
RP: The experience among WesTech’s founders included significant expertise in the minerals processing area – hence we have always tried to be involved with and support the minerals industry, particularly in the processing and tailings areas. We have provided equipment and engineering services for more than 40 years, with activities throughout North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and many other parts of the world.
SMR: It looks like WesTech continues developing new products for use in mining, such as the Tower Press Filter announced in February. What is WesTech's view to the future of minerals-related products (minerals, coal and steel) -- how aggressive is WesTech's minerals R&D?
RP: We believe a key element to continued success is to learn to listen to your customers. Some of the best insights on applicable areas of research and development come from listening to the mine and minerals processing operators on where bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or frustrations occur. When we better understand what the real problems are, our team can usually come up with a better or more reliable “mouse trap.” I believe the future advancements will include improvements in separation efficiencies, lower power and/or chemical usage, and processes significantly lowering tailings disposal costs.
SMR: From the mining industry, where do you see the most interest in your products (sectors, but also geographically)?
RP: WesTech’s core business lies in ‘liquid/solids separation.’ As a result, the expertise WesTech brings is generally applied in the thickening and concentration circuits, and in the raw water supply and waste treatment and disposal. We are actively engaged around the globe, with the exception of Antarctica and some areas of central Africa.
SMR: When it comes to reaching increasingly strict environmental sustainability and health and safety goals, where do you see opportunities for the mining industry in general to lower costs or improve efficiency?
RP: This is an area dear to my heart. WesTech’s core purpose includes using our expertise “to benefit humanity.” I understand the health and safety goals vary widely around the world, but it is incumbent on us to use the best available technologies and know-how in addressing health and safety-related issues, regardless of localized policies. I think this is an opportunity for companies like WesTech to cross-pollinate their expertise across minerals, chemical, and biological treatment options. We have found, for example, that the introduction of biological or chemical methods common to wastewater or drinking water processes are often the most cost-effective options for difficult mineral treatment or disposal processes. We are fortunate to have an expertise in the broad liquid/solids separation areas.