11 December 2008
By Emily Roberts, HighGrade
BUSINESS is booming for Caterpillar Underground Mining. And the woman in charge of maintaining that growth, and the well-known brand’s penetration into world markets, Tami Nelson, sees significant opportunities for further improvement.
“Underground mining is a very important part of our business,” American-born Nelson told HighGrade. “We are working to grow our presence in the market. I have a very exciting job right now.”
Badged with the name of business founder Dale B Elphinstone up until recently, Caterpillar Underground Mining machines are still designed and manufactured in Elphinstone’s home town of Burnie in Tasmania’s north. The underground loaders, and later articulated dump trucks, have been produced at the seaside town since 1975. Caterpillar has continued to increase production from the facility, though it now also manufactures underground equipment in Brazil, with the upgraded AD55B underground truck recently entering the market.
After years working for Caterpillar globally, including in the US and China, Nelson now lives in Burnie, where she heads Caterpillar Underground Mining as well as Caterpillar Operations, based in Melbourne. “The Burnie facility designs and builds equipment for the underground mining industry,” she said. “The Melbourne facility builds buckets and bodies for underground and surface equipment. My previous role was global mining marketing manager located in Peoria, Illinois. Prior to that, I was located in Xuzhou, China working in our excavator facility there.”
Nelson said the strong growth of the mining industry offered both great opportunities and challenges. “Our customers need equipment and they need us to build it as fast as we can,” she said. “Available talent is one of our challenges to meeting our customer needs. We are dealing with this by developing our own training and development programs.
“One of my key opportunities is the development of our employees. One of my favourite responsibilities as a leader is helping others achieve their goals and helping them develop. There is so much opportunity in our industry today that it is fun to help others take advantage of that responsibility.”
Nelson has strong ideas about what makes a good leader. Much of what she has achieved today she attributes to the life lessons passed on by her father from an early age.
“My father died several years ago, but he is still an inspiration to me,” she said. “Our family was always struggling financially, but my father taught us that there were always others that had less and we could help them. His integrity was very strong. He would never sacrifice his values for gain. I learned a great deal from him.
“I admire leaders that make the tough decisions. As leaders we face those every day, but many walk away. I admire those that don’t walk away. They have the difficult discussions and they truly lead the organisation.”
Nelson said she had always been choosy about her career direction, weighing up the pros and cons of each role offered to her. “I have taken responsibility for my career,” she said. “I have turned down positions (including promotions) that I felt were a bad fit for my skills. I have aggressively pursued assignments that would help me learn more about other cultures and environments. Every position I’ve held has provided experiences that I draw upon in the next job.”
Nelson also has some advice for the younger generation of mining industry professionals. “The resources industry is an exciting field. We impact nearly everything that is made. Think of all the things we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have mining: everything made of steel, televisions – even toothpaste. A career in the resources industry can be very exciting. I would encourage students today to work hard and be patient. You have many years to work. Take the time to get the education you need to build your experience base. Remember every move in your career doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be a promotion. You have to build that experience to make yourself valuable for your company.”
Nelson, a keen cyclist and golfer, chose the mining industry due to its “excitement factor”. She joined Caterpillar after graduating from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering, and has spent the past 22 years working in various capacities for Caterpillar.
“The subjects I liked most in high school were maths and science,” she said. “I wanted to continue in those areas at university. I focused on the extractive part of my degree because I enjoyed mining and the challenge of recovering metals from ores.
“I originally wanted to be a journalist, but I wasn’t a very good writer so I had to move to something else. I started my education in the chemical engineering field, but changed to metallurgy because I thought it was more exciting. I wanted change and fast moving processes and I thought metallurgy would provide that.”
Nelson now has her sights firmly on growing the Caterpillar underground business, and is well settled into her managing director’s role, which she has held since January this year. As for future roles, she says she is “not sure what the company has planned for me”.
“I have moved to several different positions throughout my career,” she said. “I’ve always believed that I need to perform well and do the right things in the job I currently hold. If I do that properly, the next position usually takes care of itself.”
Article was first published in HighGrade www.highgrade.net