Andrew McLaughlin’s unconventional route equipped him to be GC at Major Drilling

His international and cross-cultural experience helped him connect with his company’s global offices

Andrew McLaughlin’s unconventional route equipped him to be GC at Major Drilling

Andrew McLaughlin didn’t take the conventional route into the legal field – his career began in the Canadian embassies in Havana and Mexico City. Now, as Vice President of Legal Affairs & General Counsel at Major Drilling, he tells Canadian Lawyer that his unique blend of legal expertise and political know-how can be a game changer.

“Initially, I didn't think there would be much overlap at all,” says McLaughlin. “However, I think one of the greatest benefits of those six years living and working in Latin America is it provided me with the credibility of having spent time out in the world outside of Canada. You're interacting with society on a daily basis...it allows you to get a bit of a deeper engagement with other cultures and ways of doing business.”

This international exposure equipped McLaughlin with a unique perspective, crucial in navigating the diverse political and cultural landscapes in which Major Drilling operates. His time abroad enabled him to step outside the Canadian context, allowing for a more nuanced approach.

This ability to engage with different cultures is not just an added skill but an integral part of his role in the company.

“We’re spread across 15 branches around the world,” he tells Canadian Lawyer. “I don't necessarily default to that Canadian context or Canadian reality in my thinking. I try to understand a little bit more about the local context, the driving forces in society that can play into the situation.

“We have employees all around the world, and I believe they appreciate the fact that I haven’t just been working from behind a desk in Canada for my whole career.”

During his time in Latin America, McLaughlin's Spanish proficiency and familiarity with local customs provided a significant advantage, building camaraderie and enabling smoother operations across different regions.

“The fact that I can engage in Spanish with our teams, it brings some familiarity and credibility,” he says. “This can help in developing a deeper and quicker connection.”

However, the connection also sheds light on deeper issues within specific communities – challenges that organizations must heed.

“When thinking about some of the environmental concerns and human rights concerns we see on occasion in this industry – it's really those companies that are paying attention to these issues, that will listen to those concerns and genuinely care about those communities, those are the ones that are poised to be successful over the long run. It’s this whole idea of a social license to operate, and that's the notion that I carry with me to this day.”

And McLaughlin's not alone in stressing the importance of sustainability. If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that for employees, and by extension, the companies they opt to work for, ESG is fast becoming a big priority.

For younger, top tier and in-demand talent, having authentic ESG policies and values is essential. So much so that a recent report from KPMG found that 20 percent of younger jobseekers have turned down a new role because they didn’t think that the company’s ESG values matched their own. Moreover, half of the employees aged 18 to 24 said they’d quit their current job if they found out their company wasn’t honest about its sustainability approach.

And if anyone understands this, it’s McLaughlin. Like many in the extractive industry, Major Drilling faces unique challenges in environmental sustainability and social responsibility. His role involves ensuring compliance with existing standards and preparing for future challenges. The transition to green energy is a pressing issue, especially given the company's operational locations in remote areas like the Andes and the Gobi Desert.

“We're operating a fleet of drilling rigs in some of the most remote regions on Earth,” McLaughlin says. “And we're often far off the grid, even far from operating mines. In these instances, we often don't have a viable option yet to tie into a cleaner energy source. And since we don't manufacture our rigs or equipment, we're really dependent on our suppliers to develop those innovations and to ensure that they've got the ability to get it to market.”

“We're not a big emitter in the mining context in terms of the supply chain. Often these big mines, those big players, their first priority is to decarbonize other parts of their operations that have a larger carbon footprint. So, it's difficult at times to get their attention. We want them to know that we’re eager to partner with them in their decarbonization efforts.”

McLaughlin, though, is vocal that he has a super dedicated team at Major Drilling that wants to make a difference and explore innovations, including those that aren’t necessarily flashy. Furthermore, McLaughlin discussed the broader technological advancements in the mining sector, such as electrification, hydrogen fuel, and the increasing importance of automation in enhancing safety and efficiency. These technological shifts represent a fundamental transformation in mining companies' operations and interactions with their environment and communities.

As the only lawyer in a company with a global presence, McLaughlin relies heavily on a network of local legal counsel to navigate the diverse international laws and regulations. “We've had some really great legal assistance out in the field across those fifteen countries,” he says.

When asked about legal leadership, McLaughlin notes, "In my mind, it comes back to just a couple of key qualities you need to be able to thrive in this role.”

The first quality McLaughlin looks for is openness – an eagerness to collaborate and share the company’s story.

“That’s going to go a really long way,” he says. “We know a lot of companies are facing similar issues as us and challenges on ESG, particularly as we're going through this green energy transition. There are important high-level discussions happening right now at the COP meetings – and those are crucial conversations. But I think I've gotten some traction in sharing our stories and experience when I'm talking about what's actually happening on the ground level of the business, which I don't think there's enough of.”

Secondly, McLaughlin looks for a willingness to work outside of your comfort zone and embrace the unknown.

“For some time, I’ve been calling for lawyers to take a leading role on the ESG and sustainability, both in-house and external, and I think that's truer now more than ever,” he tells Canadian Lawyer. “We've got voluntary standards becoming mandatory, increased scrutiny around greenwashing – our world is becoming more complex. I think lawyers have a unique ability to make sense of this increasingly complex and volatile world and to bring value to their organizations.”

Andrew McLaughlin is a member of the Canadian Lawyer editorial board.

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