Julie Lucas

Environmental Manager, Hibbing Taconite Company

”Being able to learn from the experiences of others, even if they are scattered around the globe, is an incredible benefit and our industry is better off because of that information sharing.”

Julie Lucas HeadshotWhat led you to join SME? For how long have you been a member?

Although I had been an SME member for a number of years prior, my real involvement with the organization began about a decade ago when I was invited to a Northern MN SME Subsection meeting after work one day. It was at that meeting that I found a group of dedicated mining professionals who were committed to the organization and its mission, and who were actively educating our community members about mining, coordinating continuing education opportunities for local professionals, and helping link people together throughout the Iron Range.

What initially led you to pursue your profession? Why have you stayed in your profession for the past 15 years?

My initial career aspirations centered around protecting the environment, and twenty years ago, working for a mining company naively felt like the antithesis of what I would do with my life. Thankfully, an opportunity to work for an environmental consulting firm on the Iron Range of Minnesota cleared up my misconceptions about this industry.

Now that I work directly for an operation and am part of the decision-making team, I am in a position to minimize our industry’s impacts on the environment while still meeting production goals and long-term mining plans. This profession requires constant growth and development of not only technical skills, but also soft skills as I have to influence others, both internal and external to the operation. I thrive on the variety and the dynamic nature of both what we do here at the facility and what happens within our stakeholder community.

How has being an SME member enhanced or shaped your career?

SME has given me the opportunity to expand my horizons and embed myself with the mining family beyond the Iron Range and Minnesota. I have found a community of like-minded professionals that can commiserate if needed, provide guidance and ideas, and generally help me grow in my role.

In addition, as a woman in a geographic area with limited senior women in the mining operations, it has been incredible to find mentors from other mining sectors who have navigated this traditionally-male field for decades and are generous with their time, energy and support.

Favorite SME member benefit(s) to take advantage of?

The greatest member benefit for me has been the opportunity to expand my network and become engaged with the Environmental Division and different committees within it. SME’s members are passionate about the industry and are always striving to make it stronger. Being able to learn from the experiences of others, even if they are scattered around the globe, is an incredible benefit and our industry is better off because of that information sharing.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of your job?

Effective environmental management requires following Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle on a constant basis to avoid being consumed by the “firefighting” tasks of the job. It can be very difficult to stay focused on the long-term improvement projects and permitting needs when you’re responding to immediate and short-term tasks such as spill response or waste management. My role is a pivot point between day-to-day operations and future-focused items such as legislative and regulatory changes, and maintaining that balance in my focus can be challenging.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspects of your job?

My greatest career satisfaction comes from teaching others. In my role, I am able to teach mining folks WHY we do what we do to protect the environment, and I am able to educate non-miners about the mining process and how miners play a critical role in environmentally-responsible steel production and the development of green technologies. I have been lucky to play an active role in the culture change within our industry over the past 15 years as we figure out how to make sustainable mining a reality.

Who has been key in shaping your career, and how?

My former manager, now retired, was critical in the development of my career, including my involvement with SME. He was a “miner” to the core and absolutely loved being in this industry and that passion was contagious and inspiring. He pushed me to be more assertive and stand my ground when challenged and always helped me to see the long game in changing a long-standing culture.

In what ways have you seen the industry change since you first began your career?

Environmental regulations and requirements have grown significantly, along with corresponding stakeholder engagement. Community relations isn’t a checkbox on a form but a real, shared responsibility at a facility and if not properly managed, it can have significant effects on the operation. We have a responsibility to educate our community members and be open to feedback and their concerns.

Where do you think the industry will take you in the next decade?

I hope in ten years I have made progress in helping non-industry folks understand the importance of what we do and how critical our products are to everyday life.