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FTE Drilling: Knowing the drill

Founded 35 years ago, FTE Drilling provides its services over a wide reach, with offices and operations in Canada, West Africa, the USA and South America. We spoke with Vincent Gonthier, FTE Drilling’s Director of Business Development, about the company’s recent expansions, future plans, and what it is that Vincent feels sets FTE apart from its competitors. 

Drilling is essential in a variety of heavy industries: mining is a major one, requiring it for both exploration and production, and construction is another, be that commercial, residential or industrial. Geotechnical investigations, water supply – it all calls for drilling, and in the regions where its operations are established, FTE Drilling is known as an authority in providing it. What’s more, the company is happy and able to tackle a vast range of project sizes, from small-scale construction to major undertakings. As FTE states; “Our client base is as varied as the different services we offer, but notably we work for mining operations, junior exploration companies, municipalities, engineering firms, all the way to individual home owners looking for an environmentally friendly way to heat/cool their property!”

 

The company was established in 1987, and since then, it has worked to build an extensive resource not only of specialized equipment, but also a trained and specialised team. At present, the company employs around 800 people worldwide, all of whom it makes sure to keep up to date with the latest developments in the field. Speaking with Vincent Gonthier, he told us; “We’re proud to offer various safety and technical training to entry-level crews and specialized continuous training in the different trades that make up our team. Technology in the drilling industry is fast evolving and it’s crucial to provide adapted support for trades such as electro-mechanic technicians and drill fitters if we want to ensure we continue offering our clients a high level of productivity within a safe environment.”

Working on a wide range of projects, and in varying sizes, Vincent explained how it was the company’s versatility that was one of its key strengths, as well as the talented and dedicated team who make that possible: FTE Drilling is one of those ‘big but small’ companies that has kept its flexibility to react, adapt or make appropriate changes to the challenges faced very quickly. The founders of the company and several of their family members are still heavily involved with day-to-day operations, and key individuals who have joined the team have brought in very high-level business management expertise. Most importantly, to this day, the core management group profile takes its professional roots in drilling, ensuring we never lose sight of our reason for being.”

Headquartered in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the company has had an international presence since its founding year, with at least one operation in each region it holds a presence in today. This presence has continued to spread and grow across these areas, and lately, the home front has seen particular activity. “We are experiencing very strong growth across the country over the last few years,” Vincent told us, speaking of Canada. This is, in part, due to the mining industry going through an extremely healthy period – though, happily for FTE Drilling (and no doubt a reason for their placement strategy), every country it operates in has a strong mining tradition.

“Although by nature a cyclical business, the mining sector has been thriving, especially in the gold market, for close to a decade with no signs of letting down,” Vincent told us. “Some jurisdictions can be more challenging than others to operate in, however. West Africa and its security issues come as a prime example of a geographical location where this factor has had a direct impact on the operational cost for companies.” In Candana, this mining boom plus an environment with fewer working challenges has led to a dynamite combination. 

In developing this strong reputation within the mining industry, FTE Drilling has been able to work with many of the major names of the sector: Nordgold, Iamgold, Endeavour Mining, Barrick, Newgold, Duco Mining Supplies, Atlas Copco, Schramm Ltd, Sandvik and St. Barbara Ltd, to name a few. These relationships have been earnt and built up over time, and all are close to the company’s heart, but there was one in particular that Vincent was keen to highlight to us, as it represents a time when a company gave FTE Drilling a chance in a fresh area of operations: “I want to point out that High River Gold, a Canadian junior exploration company that eventually became part of the Nordgold group, gave us our first chance in exploration drilling in West Africa in 2008.”

As well as opening up new horizons through these votes of confidence, these relationships also support FTE Drilling in developing its future by giving it a stable financial foundation upon which to build: “We are fortunate to have a number of long-term contracts with key partners on both sides of the Atlantic that makes us confident investing in new equipment and evaluating potential for value-added partnership on the market.” Last year saw the completion of just such an investment: a new drill rig building facility, which the company has had constructed at its headquarters in Quebec.  “This is a major milestone in the company’s history,” Vincent told us, “And will set the foundations for supporting company growth.”  

“On the business development front,” he continued, “We’ve recently executed our first ever contract in Guinee Conakry, and are about to move two more rigs on a multi-year contract into country during Q1-2022. In Canada, we’ve executed (amongst many) two very successful contracts with the NewGold and Greentsone projects in RC and DD drilling in Ontario. We are also recently making headways with grade controls contracts in the Carolina’s slate belt on the US eastern region.”

Moving forwards, the company plans to continue increasing its presence in the USA with an up of its reverse circulation drilling operations, and to continue its growth in Canada through an increase in diamond drilling meters. However, as well as growing its business, it aims also include upping how cleanly the company operates, as well as continuing with its current CSR endeavours. Starting out with its green initiatives, we asked Vincent how FTE Drilling manages its environmental impact whilst it is working:

“FTE Drilling’s environment protection program is greatly immersed throughout all decision-making processes within the company. Leaving as little footprint as possible on an environmentally sensible exploration project starts by our fleet management department choosing amongst our large choices of adapted machinery, perhaps opting for low impact rubber crawler over a truck mounted rig. It can also mean keeping at the forefront of technology in dust control sampling equipment for RC drilling, benefiting our client’s work environment while protecting the health of our employees.” These are some specialised answers, reflecting how seriously FTE Drilling takes its responsibility towards the areas it operates in, rather than simply ticking the standard boxes. “Recycling, yes, but more than ever, looking at what we can do to consume less of everything wherever possible.” 

As for CSR, this is where FTE’s care for the areas it works in moves on from damage prevention and goes beyond, into proactive, positive change. “We are engaged locally wherever our operations bring us; whether it be providing complimentary water supply solutions to mine impacted communities in Kédougou- Senegal, helping fundraising initiatives for the annual MS Walk Association in Montérégie- Québec, or making annual donation of dry goods, clothing and hygiene products to the Association for Women with Obstetric Fistula Medical Condition in Ouagadougou- Burkina Faso.” It is the aim of these various initiatives, Vincent told us, to “have a direct impact on the less fortunate“, so that FTE’s presence in an area produces a tangible positive outcome for the local communities. 

Vincent has been with FTE for around 12 years now. Originally joining the team to assist with an expansion, he never left, and has since risen into the crucial Director of Business Development role. “I’ve been happily part of the FTE team since 2010. I initially came in to assist with the company’s rapid expansion into West Africa and had the opportunity to participate and lead in the implementation of many different departments within the current structure.” We asked Vincent what his advice was when it comes to leadership: having joined a team at a tumultuous time of change, and since been with the same company through many other such periods, including the recent pandemic, we asked for his insights on how to inspire a team to excel: Leading by example, but also promoting leadership from within your teams. Ensuring that everyone has a clear understanding that, by combining our strengths, we not only go further as a team but also allow our individual potentials to grow.”  This is a fantastic outlook, and one that can lead to a bright future for a company, both as a whole and, as Vincent rightly says, for all those working within it. As it continues its growth and maintains its focus on specialisation and excellence, it seems that same positivity is set to continue benefiting their clients, too, as well as the communities around their work.