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Profiles in Success: The Butte connection

By Gerard O'Brien of the Montana Standard

If you are the general manager for the Berkeley Pit mining operations, you're the lightning rod for all that goes wrong with little praise for all that goes right at the copper mine.

Dan Rovig was Butte GM shortly after Salvadore Allende nationalized the Anaconda Copper Co. mines in Chile. That put a lot of pressure on Butte to produce when diesel fuel began to skyrocket and the price of copper plummeted. Rovig was just a pup, at age 36, to be running an operation with some 1,500 workers in 1975. It was a time for professional growth for Rovig, who carved out his professional career in Butte that lead to larger opportunities later on.

Q. How did you choose your area of study?

A. I was interested in natural science when I graduated from high school. My interests were in science and engineering applications, biology and chemistry. My dad, Cliff, had a garage service station business in the Kalispell area. I knew some people who worked with their hands and heads and got things done. It instilled a mechanical interest.

You may not think the rural Montanans would make good scientists, but a lot of Montanans are interested in the environment around them and what makes it tick.

I have two brothers and one sister and I received lots of encouragement to acquire an education. We were very fortunate to have supportive parents. I know there were a lot of sacrifices made to get us some level of higher education. I am very grateful for that.

I remember when I was a junior in high school, I heard about Montana Tech being one of the best schools in the West. So, we took a ride down to Butte to look around between my junior and senior years. It was my first acquaintance with Butte. As I began to pursue engineering schools, I liked the concept of working in the mineral industry. I applied there and was accepted.

Once I got there, it was absolutely wonderful. The underground mines were operating. The Anaconda Co. was extremely courteous to the college in helping to get students working in the mines.

That initiated a tremendous start in the industry.

Education can be thought of as jargon, but here you see it first-hand. Butte is a very unique place, a full-discipline mining operation. We have a tremendous leg up over other engineering schools. It helps kick off your career earlier than would be otherwise.

I was on the faculty at Montana Tech, for a couple of years, and during that time, I did go out with some of the other professors, on our own time to represent the college in Montana and Idaho. It was an enlightening experience to talk about the mining industry to high school students and their parents. When you begin to explain the application of real professional discipline it begins to pique their interest.

Q. Why did you choose Montana Tech over other schools?

A. It is highly rated in Montana for its discipline, mining or geological engineering. From an economic standpoint, you have a working opportunity there. I recognized it early that it was a first-rate education.

I worked at several of the mines for summer jobs in the industry, took surveying classes and worked with the Forest Service, surveying roads and trails. It's an example of doing, not book learning. You can see it first-hand. The following year, I applied what I had learned. It all made sense, and made the classes easier. I also worked at a mine operation near Libby.

I graduated with a bachelor's at Tech, and then went on to Penn State for graduate school. From there, I was offered a job at Libby. I came back to Butte and obtained a master's in Metallurgical Engineering.

Once I got my career going in 1967, I joined the ACM in Tucson and transferred back to Butte. I had wonderful opportunities to work at the Weed Concentrator, which, in 1963, had all the latest technology, instrumentation, and it is still working well today. It was an extremely formative time for me and helped me become the general manager of the Butte operations.

Q. What is your proudest moment in your career?

A. The first one was my election to the American Mining Hall of Fame in December 2001. That is managed by the SW Mining Foundation in Tucson. It came along after I had a great experience at Butte. It's like being tapped on the shoulder by a peer group. When Arco came along, I left Butte and joined British Petroleum, then Glamis Gold, an intermediate-sized gold company. At the time, Glamis was undergoing a transformation, and we had a short period of time to make the company grow — and we did.

I was in Reno at the time and since then, the company has merged with Goldcorp Inc., which is now the fourth-largest gold company in the world.

I had the opportunity to be a president, practice some administrative and general manager duties, get everyone pulling in the same direction. We had 200 employees. Today, it is 12,000 employees with more than $30 billion market capital.

The other thing that stunned me was my selection this spring in May 2008 by Montana Tech, the Board of Regents, my peer group and students to receive the Doctorate of Science. I was extremely honored to receive this; tickled really. It was not anticipated. It stands out because it came from a peer group.

Q. What goals did you accomplish or a project that you are most proud of?

A. I am very grateful for the tremendous opportunities given me. In 1967 I joined the ACM. I was about 36 at the time I became the general manager. It came very early in my career. I have relied on those experiences ever since. The underground mine was running at the same time, such as the Kelley Mine. It was a great application of mining, mechanics and business.

Another real moving opportunity for me was when I joined British Petroleum and had a patina of international experience. We traveled to Africa, Brazil, London and lots of other places.

A third was when I joined Glamis, a Vancouver, British Columbia, firm with an office in Reno. It sort of was pulled up by its bootstraps and later merged with Goldcorp.

It operates in Nevada, California, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and has projects in Ontario.

I encourage out people to visit these sites, it's good to kick the stones.

Q. Tell us about some memorable college experience, either how it applies to your work today or just something that was fun for you at Tech.

A. When I was there we had good times at the Vu Villa and the U & I, but it was not a highlight.

College experience was a grand experience. If you're a serious student you begin to appreciate the group of people who have dedicated their lives to education.

People like William Vine and Koehler Stout, a great, wonderful man, who always advocated "technology transfer" — take the idea to practice. After a while, people forget where the idea came from. I found a lot of inspiration in Professor Don McGlashen, too. It's a highlight, realizing there's a wealth of knowledge there.

Q. Who is a favorite hero to you, mentor, public, private and why?

A. A man I met in Libby years ago, Al Nicholls. He was a native of Butte, but worked in Libby. He was a good thinker, organizer, with tremendous interest in the minerals industry and Zonolite, the vermiculate mine. He was a technical, plant superintendent. He had the respect to reach out. He's one of my champions.

Another man, Leonard Powell, President of the Montana Mining Division, when I was GM in Butte. It was a difficult time, after fall of the Anaconda group in Chile, and I was struggling on how to run the Butte operations. There were layoffs, a lot of the underground mines were closing, and we were struggling to keep the pit operations going. We made the operation survive, and it was definitely a formative time in my career.

Q. What is a favorite book or reference material?

A. I like real stories about real people, such as "Path Between the Seas" about the Panama Canal construction. "John Adams" "Inside the Jihad" and "Blood and Thunder" about Kit Carson.

Q. How did Tech serve you in your past, current or even potential, future jobs? Give us some examples.

A. Certainly, familiarity with professors and staff at Montana Tech. For example, Tom Finch, now retired, who was the former head of the Mining Department. Tech helped me find quality engineers.

Goldcorp just established scholarships for professors. Goldcorp is interested in helping academia, here in Montana and other countries. They are very keen on this.

My wife and I established an endowed scholarship for mining and mineral processing students.

Q. How do you stay connected to Montana Tech?

A. Active with the Montana Tech foundation for good number of years.

Q. What advice would you give high school students who are considering entering college?

A. I'm a science and technology kind of guy, with the financial attributes.

For the last several years in Reno, I've been a judge at regional science fairs and am appalled at the shortfall of kids' interest in science and technology on up through high school.

When I can, I encourage these young folks to take a look at science, math and chemistry to keep their options open. As a nation, we are falling behind in those fields.

Students in Asia and India are driven, motivated. I'd like to see that motivation come back into the U.S. school system.

In the minerals industry, you have to realize that the jobs are real, the opportunities are great and the chance to travel is constant.

Rovig and his wife recently took a trip to Central America, to explore the "Route of the Maya." If that isn't an adventure, not much is.

About Dan Rovig

Age: 69

Current address: 4273 Bitterroot Road, Reno, Nev.

Job title and company: Mining and Mineral Processing Consulting Engineer, Reno, Nev.

Family: Wife, Maureen of Libby. Both Montana natives. I was born in Missoula and raised in Kalispell. Maureen is a UM grad in education.

Tech degrees: B.S. Mining Engineering (1961); M.S. Mineral Dressing Engineering (1965); Engineer of Mines, Honoris Causa (1976); Gold Medal Award and Commencement Speaker (May 13, 1995), and Honorary Doctor of Science 2008; all from Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology in Butte.

Two brothers and one sister: David Rovig is also a Mining Engineer from Tech. Sister, Lorna, graduated from St. Patrick's school of nursing in Missoula. And younger brother, Steve, was an undergrad at MSU in Bozeman and earned a law degree in Missoula; now practicing at a Seattle law firm.

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