originally became interested in the field while studying math, physics and
chemistry at the University of Toronto. In his program of study, there were
seven different streams he could choose to go into, and starting in his second
year he saw a little bit of each as he gravitated toward what he wanted to major
in. One of his professors, a fellow by the name of Tuzo Wilson (an eminent
geophysicist who put forth the Continental Drift theory and later became the
President of Erindale College) used to show pictures of all the places he had
visited during his career. Heíd been everywhere. John was hooked: he wanted to
be a physicist and he liked the idea of traveling and working outside.
After obtaining a Bachelorís Degree in geophysics from the U of T, he then took a Masters Degree in the same field from the University of British Columbia. After graduating in 1968, he went to work for the mineral arm of a French oil company based in Calgary, called Aquitane. During the next ten years, he also worked for Chevron Minerals and two geophysical contractors: Geoterrex out of Ottawa and Scintrex out of Toronto.
his work, John says, ďItís an in-depth professional job but itís blue
collar as well because you have to go into the jungles, bushes and mountains
take measurements and do the field work. A lot of people start there and evolve
into office work. But I still prefer to do both.Ē
gradually John did evolve from just being a guy in the field to upper management
and beginning in 1973 he started working overseas in and today he has worked in
over eighty countries.
geophysical contractors were the first group of technical people that Canada
exported in a serious way. Partly because you went where the mines were; you
canít bring them to you,Ē John says. He actually ended up studying a field
still in its infancy: using geophysical techniques to define geology as opposed
to looking for mineral deposits.
Canada, by the way, leads the world when it comes to geophysics. People recognize this, but itís not common knowledge. For example, John was recently invited to go to Morocco to speak to the Moroccan Stock Exchange and the Moroccan business community because the country wants help in building up the financial side of their mining sector.
You canít always see all the rocks, but if you use geophysical techniques you can see the rocks through all the dirt on top. So in the early 80s countries were deciding to try and better idea of what kind of minerals they actually had. As a result, John ended up doing a number of different surveys around the world, including one, which spanned the entire country of Jordan.
Thai government also wanted to do a mineral inventory to see what hidden
treasures it had. Back then, the countryís main exports earners were tapioca
and rice and the government wanted to add minerals to the list. So they borrowed
US$50 million from the Asian Development Bank (at 11 ľ% interest), of which
about seventy percent was targeted for geophysics.
stipulated that the Thais needed experts to help implement the US$35 million
geophysical side of the loan. Thatís where John came in as he arrived to work
inside the 120-year-old Thai Department of Mineral Resources, which is part of
the Ministry of Industry. This was, and still is, the biggest survey of its kind
ever performed and unfortunately the least utilized. (The results hang on the
walls of Johnís office at the One Pacific Place Building on Sukhumvit Rd). The
project was supposed to take five years, but the survey and all the ancillary
work actually ended up stretching to eight from 1984-92. (John worked on it from
has ever bought the US$20 million ADB survey that Steele worked on because
itís too expensive and the Thais donít want to sell it because they are
scared the person who buys it will then turn around and re-sell it. The Thai
government really has little experience
in the use of the survey. But by charging
so much they obviously discourage people from coming here and setting up
however, did grow out of this project. John realized that the mineral resources
in Thailand were completely unexploited and absolutely so by foreign groups, who
had the knowledge and expertise that didnít exist here. So he thought there
was a role for a company that could do the work and also manage projects for
foreign groups and bring them into the country. John then set up Geothai with
his Thai partner at the DMR, Amnuaychai Thienprasert. They needed to build the
business but John was in no financial state to stay here, so he moved his wife
and two children back to Canada, while Amnuaychai stayed here and ran Geothai.
From 87-91, John then took a consulting job in Iran, which took him go to the Persian Gulf for two weeks every two months. He was the first technical guy in Iran after the revolution and the only foreigner with his company. He was there the day the Ayatollah died and when the mullahs decreed that nine people in his workplace had to be shot for corruption, so they dragged everyone outside the company and they then shot the culprits in the back of the head while John and the rest of his co-workers were forced to stand by and watch.
1994, he continued doing consulting work throughout the world, but he made a
number of trips to Thailand to oversee Geothai. The company then started putting
together some exploration projects with foreign companies, helping them to
better understand the way things were done here.
Then a Canadian stockbroker named Yorkton Securities, who specialized in mining finance wanted to expand into Asia and bring companies here that needed financing. His company, Yorkton Securities, hired John to set up a South-East Asian office with Bangkok as it hub and Geothai being its rep office. So for five years Geothai worked with Yorkton to find and finance projects for Canadian companies that wanted to work in this part of the world. It also looked for local companies that wanted to raise financing for their activities such as the Malaysian Mining Corporation. This lead to financial projects in Malaysia, Indonesia the Philippines and it generated exploration projects in Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam as well as some ancillary projects in Laos and Cambodia.
So what does the future hold for Geothai? ďFirst, we will expand the business of the company. Thereís a market for e-commerce and e-business, so we will become the Asian representative for a number of functional e-business software firms.
the Thai government has decided to sub-contract its resource exploration. They
are putting out 206 areas over seven years with a 480-day exploration period
with a budget of Bt22 million per area. We will be bidding on a number of these
projects and if we get them we will be actively soliciting people to come and
work in the country.
third, I am taking Geothai public in Thailand as the Stock Exchange of Thailand
has created a sub-exchange called the Market for Alternative Investment (MAI.).
Normally a resource-based group wouldnít get any benefit from listing with the
SET but the MAI is theoretically different in that it allows venture capital
firms to list. We will be the first or second group to be listed and I intend to
raise venture capital money for Thai resource projects from Thais. And then I
hope to list the company with the Toronto Stock Exchange.Ē
Another project Steele is working on is diamond exploration. ďThe Thais were finding diamonds in the tin-mining areas in the south for many years. Then in 1968, the DMR decided they wanted to find out where they came from so they called in the British Geological Survey, which was working in Burma at the time, to go to Phuket and the surrounding area and appraise the situation. This team told the Thais they had just learned from continental drift that Thailand and Australia were once linked and since they are diamonds in Northern Australia, the Thai diamonds were alluvial - the source wasnít here, and since Australia had moved away there was no point in looking for diamonds.
1973, we learned that Thailand and Australia were never linked. But when I came
here in 84, one of the director-generals showed me diamonds that have been found
in Thailand and still said the DMRís position was the source was Australia
because the British Geological Survey had told them so. We then took the
existing data and did exploration actually identifying sources of where these
diamonds come from. We even had some concessions but politics entered into it
and they were taken away from us. So now we are in negotiations with De Beers
and other companies to set up joint ventures here.Ē
also the President of the Prospector & Development Association of Canada (PDAC),
which represents all the junior (smaller) exploration mining companies in the
world. Being a spokesman for this industry opens almost every door for him in
the mining business to both the producing and junior companies and is a great
way to promote his company and the industry here. The body also has a lot of
influence e.g. it just worked with the South African Mining Minister to propose
changes in that countryís new flawed mining law.
John has purposely kept a low profile in the ex-pat community preferring to integrate himself with the Thais he is working and dealing with. As a result, not many people in the Canadian community in Thailand know John Steele and thatís a shame. Heís been a credit to his company and his country and his expertise has helped Thailand evolve as a country. Heís a good example of what Canadian know-how can do when itís properly applied.
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