Rebecca Kellam: Moving to the next level

Published: 30/04/2013


By magazine

THROUGH mergers and takeovers, Rebecca Kellam has experienced the highs and lows of a company transformation over the past 13 years. Employed by Surpac in 1995 when it was still an owner-run business, and now by Toronto-listed Gemcom Software International (which this month was acquired by three private equity firms), Kellam is relishing the change of dynamics.

Kellam said the company had changed a lot since she first joined. Surpac was “a company very much controlled by the founder”, while Gemcom has just posted its first $C50 million-plus sales year and is continuing to build its staff worldwide. It currently employs 318 people in 19 locations around the world.

Her familiarity with many parts of the business is one of her key strengths, she says. Kellam has worked in sales, support and management, as well as a stint in the Vancouver office. “Some people say I am just part of the furniture now, but I have never liked that term,” she told HighGrade. “The role I have now [which she began full time in February] has been a logical progression [for my career], and I cross over both support and sales. I am still quite hands on, because it’s a new area in the business; we are developing our processes.”

A geologist by profession, she joined Surpac in 1995, which became Surpac Minex Group in 2002 after merging with ECSI (which owned Minex), and then Gemcom after it merged with Surpac Minex in August 2006. Gemcom has been bought out by JMI Equity, The Carlyle Group and Pala Investments Holdings for about $C190 million.

As account director at Gemcom, Kellam is responsible for the company’s “top-tier clients” as part of a move by the company to lose the last remnants of the “mum-and-dad-type company”. Gemcom is now the largest global supplier of mining and exploration software, with products including GEMS, Surpac, Minex, Whittle and InSite.

The company has pursued strong growth over the past five years – through acquisitions, and organic – and it sees the buyout of Gemcom by three private investment firms as part of a vision to “take the company to the next level”, according to CEO Rick Moignard.

“While proud of our track record of revenue and earnings growth over the last five years, we think that the mining industry must fundamentally change its use of software within their operations in the coming five years,” he said. “We believe that this provides Gemcom with the opportunity to become the industry standard for mine management software. Reaching this next level, however, will require increased investment in our products and solutions in the short term in anticipation of the longer term gain. The [private equity] transaction not only represents a powerful endorsement of the business we have built, but a chance for shareholders to realise value in their investment today without the elevated risk and potential volatility associated with the execution of our evolving long-term growth strategy.”

Kellam will be a key part of the Australian growth story. “What we are trying to do at the moment as a company is that part of our strategy is to develop our strategic account management skills, which involves looking more at our top-tier customers and managing relationships with them with the view to increasing their revenue. We are also focused on working out the profile of an ideal customer,” she said.

“I am involved in the local Australian market trying to bring a lot of our relationships into the 21st century – that is, putting contracts around them, standardising terms and conditions, and also ensuring we are meeting the needs of our biggest-spend customers. It is about us recognising who are important customers and us dealing with those customers appropriately.”

Buying a one-way ticket to Perth after graduating from the University of Otago in New Zealand in 1988 after struggling to find a job in New Zealand, Kellam quickly found work, mainly in mining geology, at Wiluna in WA’s mid west region, where she stayed for two-and-a-half years (including a year driving trucks).

After some contract fly-in, fly-out work from Perth, Kellam went travelling overseas for 10 months. She returned to WA (after abandoning plans to go and study law back in New Zealand) and moved to Kalgoorlie to work for Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KCGM). Throughout her two “fabulous” years there she discovered that mining meant more to her than she previously realised.

“During my time there, I learnt more that wherever you are, mining is a process and you just have to master the process. So, it’s probably informed a lot of my thinking I have today,” she said. “After two years it became an exercise in efficiency. Every now and again we would do a continuous improvement program or a project on changing something, but at the end of the day you still have to get the dirt from here to there efficiently and manage costs as appropriately as possible and the most profitable way.”

Realising she wanted to expand her outlook beyond “work, netball and pub”, Kellam applied for a job with Surpac in Perth after hearing the company was looking for geologists, “and I am still here”. After having three children and a couple of career breaks, Kellam started again full time in February. She said she had noticed an increase in the number of women since the Gemcom merger but “there is still no vice president or women on the board in this company, so there is still room for improvement”.

She said the reduction in mentoring was also evident. Kellam said she was extremely lucky to have had a close working relationship with Surpac’s founder Geoff Bebb, who identified Kellam as a potential leader early on and set her up with a communications coach who she still sees today. “I would like to see women mentoring women, and men mentoring women and women mentoring men, or more mentoring full stop,” Kellam said. “No one has time to mentor anyone anymore, but it’s an age old thing humans have done that the elders provide wisdom and it’s that pool of wisdom that needs to be tapped into. We must address how we use wisdom – there’s a lot of wisdom out there but we aren’t valuing it. You can see it in the education system.”

Gemcom sponsored its first Women in Mining function in Perth in July, where Kellam was the key speaker.