RSC: coming out on top after a long industry downturn in a crowded market place
When Managing Director René Sterk launched RSC back in 2008 it was a one-man band triggered by his disillusionment with the big-company approach. “I was looking for more exposure to different projects and different commodities, and to be able to have a more direct impact on the bottom line”, recalls Sterk. “I had a consulting offer on the table, but it needed a 24-hour decision, so I designed a logo, registered the company in New Zealand and headed out to South Africa to provide technical support at a small gold mine in South Africa.” It was this go-getting attitude and passion for geology that saw the company grow.
Today, RSC boasts a 72-strong team comprising consultants, project and logistics managers, data management professionals, contract geologists and savvy technical personnel with experience spanning the mining cycle. Based around the world and with offices in Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Canada, the company runs projects from early stage exploration through to resource development, feasibility studies, mining operations, project close-out and sustainable environmental remediation.
Navigating the challenges of the industry downturn has seen RSC dig deep to succeed by doing things differently. “As consultants and service providers we aim to get our clients on board and to buy in to what we can offer,” says Sterk. “We really want to add value, not just do the job and send the invoice. I have sleepless nights if we’re facing a challenge to deliver on schedule, or if things don’t work out as planned. In this very conventional and crowded mining-service space, that journey, as a point of difference, is important to us. We have a top to bottom structure which is very flat, so we all equally engage with our clients.”
RSC strives to be on the cutting edge of industry developments, with technology part of the success of its offering. “Most of the time people are looking for a very conventional product. They simply want our geologists to come out to assist with a drilling program and we just work within the client's constraints,” says Sterk. However, he is keen for RSC to be part of the conversation and to stay relevant as early adopters. “We’re excited about a brand new alliance with our partners in the US, giving us access to the very latest machine learning research as we aim to offer our clients the total package,” he pledges. Sterk notes that RSC is big on forging alliances in order to broaden its offering. “For example, we work closely together with Olympus which has turned us into one of the major rental outlets of portable XRF analysers – capable of delivering multielement geochemical data via X-ray fluorescence – in Australasia,” reveals Sterk. “We also have strong alliances with companies who push the software envelope. Phinar Software, which creates the data-analytical package X-10, are creating functionality and user experiences that nobody else out there are offering, at great value, making our resource estimation work so much easier, and offering a higher-value product to our clients.
“Alternatively, we provide high-level consulting advice in unconventional markets. For instance, we’re one of the very few groups working in the seabed mining environment. It's a secretive space with overlaps with the oil and gas environment, and without public reporting requirements because a lot of this is done in international waters. Our breadth of experience in resource development, seabed sampling expertise, and ability to come up with innovative approaches really adds value here. We have done high-level work for several large international consortiums and governments with interests in this space,” Sterk adds.
RSC is also a strong supporter of questing junior explorers. “We get the biggest kick out of helping small companies that have dreams but not the teams to develop those dreams,” says Sterk. “They have ambition to get into the mining game. They've put a framework together; they've got a board and raised some money, but they've got nobody to help them execute. We like helping those guys from cradle to grave. It's the front end; all the exploration management on the ground, but also the marketing, design, road shows and compliance.” To that end, one of the various juniors RSC is currently working with is Sydney-based Gold Mountain in Papua New Guinea. “It’s a fantastic project, with amazing potential,” enthuses Sterk. “At the end of the day, as geologists our primary goal is to find deposits and these guys have a really prospective stretch of ground, but on a budget without the arms and legs to undertake the work. We've got exploration managers in the field developing programmes getting results and then we’ll advise on how to structure the portfolio. It’s an area where we excel. Finding a big deposit is not only great for the client’s shareholders, but it makes us look good as well.”
The challenge for RSC is to remain flexible and keep resources in place in what Sterk terms “such a competitive and crowded market”. Being able to react to demand is vital. “Our planning and governance is based on quarterly budgets,” he explains. “That’s how short-term the demand in the service industry is. Resourcing appropriately and taking on just enough risk to be ready when demand spikes is key.” Sterk maintains that RSC always positions itself to be able to say yes to clients and to consistently deliver the high standards they have come to expect.
RSC is agile and well-tuned to react to industry trends. Among those, Sterk highlights the shifting geography of demand that can move from North America to Africa. “Clients aren’t necessarily looking for different solutions, but they do need different structures to how we offer them, so right now we’re doing a lot of campaign work, specifically for mid-tiers and larger companies. The liability of an overfull team of full-time geologists is still fresh in their mind from the previous downturn, so we’re supporting them with turnkey solutions. It’s a way for them to mitigate risk,” reasons Sterk, who sees this development as indicative of a shift in the wider industry.
The company has managed several of Barrick’s drilling campaigns and assisted with its exploration and feasibility programmes in Western Australia. Its turnkey full-project solutions are in demand, with RSC recently picking up a big project with Evolution Mining which has assets across New South Wales and Western Australia. “Working on great exploration projects like these is a feather in our cap,” adds Sterk.
Sterk believes that being a service company is not RSC’s final destination; the organisation is capable of much more. “We’ve developed a number of other products that will ultimately diversify our company,” he confirms. RSC added oil and gas services to its portfolio in 2016, and has picked up soil remediation and other environmental work in New Zealand. “However, diversification for us is also about coming up with novel ideas. One of the things we've developed is a resource intelligence product that’s become very popular. We've recently spun that off into a daughter company called Opaxe, providing mineral intelligence to mining professionals and investors. The data analytics space is where the industry is looking for new solutions with things like big data and machine learning. We're very excited about combining our machine learning experience and research with better ways to do data analytics in a public reporting space. That's where Opaxe comes in.”
Sterk recently took on a Director role at the Australian Institute of Minerals and Metallurgy (AusIMM) where he hopes to contribute at board level for three years. Why is he so keen to give back to the community that has supported his business endeavours? “We need to encourage the next generation to enter the mining industry,” he argues. “It’s critical to build a strong industry and AusIMM allows professionals to come together to find ways to improve it. I’m passionate about getting more young people on education pathways into the industry. I’m eager for the institute to be innovative, think about what the future looks like in 20-30 years’ time, and ask how we position it to provide a place for the millennials and then the Gen Zs.”
Energised by finding new ways to make miners mineral dreams come true by helping them realise the value of their assets, Sterk and RSC aren’t ready to pass the torch just yet.