Knowing when to take a risk can be key to making progress in
life. Vareha-Walsh, from the US steel town of Pittsburgh, knows
She found her passion for the metals industry almost by
chance when working as a business consultant in 2001 with
Jefferson Wells International, shortly after spending nearly
three years as an international tax consultant for Ernst &
"Back then, I was working with clients that were dealing
with international businesses, helping them understand and
reduce their overall total landed costs and supply chain, and I
worked with one particular customer that was dealing with
challenges created by the 'Dot.com’ crash and the
move of manufacturing to Asia,’’ she
said. "They had global operations and we needed to develop a
strategy for them, given the challenges that low-cost Asian
plants and raw materials presented."
The customer for that project was Kennametal – the
company she would start working for in September 2001. "This is
how I joined the metals industry; I started as a business unit
controller and stepped out of finance and entered into the
other side – the sales and operations side of it
– after three years with the company," she said.
"That was the biggest decision of my life." She hesitated at
first because she was already good and confident in her finance
skills and the other side was uncertain, but any fears she
might have held about making the move did not change her
choice. "I believe everything that happens will lead you to
another road or provide you with experiences that make you
Little did she know when her journey began in handling those
business challenges that 20 years later she would find herself
overcoming perhaps the biggest challenge of all –
handling the material supply chain issues of a key,
high-technology industry when the world had stopped during a
Now as the director of sales, global supply chain and trade
compliance at Indium Corp, a US-based company that provides
advanced electronics assembly materials and trades high-purity
metals as well as compound products made from the minor metals
indium, gallium and germanium, Vareha-Walsh has responsibility
for the company’s supply chain, international
trade and logistics, while also leading global sales for the
metals, the metal compounds and the recycling business
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, she had to adapt to new,
unknown and unprecedented circumstances in real time. "To keep
manufacturing going during Covid was a challenge," she said.
"We did [and continue to do] everything we can to make sure we
keep the company’s production running and its
people safe," she said.
And production did not stop. "During the whole pandemic, our
company has done extremely well with the supply chain, making
sure that we had minimal to no supply-chain disruptions, with a
90-day supply of material," she said.
Indium Corp and a number of New York State manufacturers
created, and committed to, a pledge to enhance manufacturing
workplace safety while ensuring production was
"People in the production line were great. They ran the
production floor while having to deal with all the uncertainty.
We all made sure we understood who were the critical suppliers.
We have plants all around the world, and we were reviewing
them," she said.
Vareha-Walsh highlighted the importance of ensuring good
communication with your teams. "You need to dive deep to make
sure you understand critical suppliers in the process
– good information gives you confidence and reduces
the uncertainty," she said.
Keeping calm in crises
Vareha-Walsh has dealt with other global crises during her
career; two critical events that shaped world history came to
her mind: the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist
attack in New York and the subprime mortgage financial crisis
"After September 11, 2001, the market changed dramatically,"
She had just started working for Kennametal then, and her
main concern was the risk of ending up with unfulfilled
contracts. She recalled that the volume of business basically
just collapsed, making contracts challenging to manage and
their pricing very difficult because metal prices plummeted
too, particularly for cobalt.
"In 2008, it was kind of the same thing. We were questioning
if the business was going to recover – you did not
know where the bottom was," she said.
Business has held up better during the current global crisis
of the pandemic. "This time, Indium Corp products were in high
demand. We are doing a great deal in the electronics industry
and, if anything, we had more material we needed to get rather
than material we needed to figure out what to do with," she
Demand for consumer electronics, including monitors, smart
TVs, smartphones or wearables never stopped and, in many
segments, have benefited from the acceleration of remote
working, leading to even more sales.
Vareha-Walsh said that Indium Corp has seen a lot more
business growth during the pandemic: "You see an increase in
televisions, because you couldn’t go anywhere. You
have an increase in the gaming industry, in smartphones...,"
The booming demand for consumer electronics has had
far-reaching effects, resulting, for example, in a global
semiconductors shortage that has held up production at
Dealing with ups and downs
Given her experience of major market disruptions, what tips
does Vareha-Walsh have for responding to them?
"I think from a supply-chain perspective on managing metals,
the one thing that you always want to do is position yourself
so that you don’t have 100% where you believe your
forecast and demand is, but you make decisions based on a
variety of factors... Each metal is different, but you really
need to assess each one and determine what supply chain
strategy you should have. You need to ask yourself a series of
questions: How much should we have on a long-term contract?
Where does the material come from? How does the supply-chain
situation look going forward? Are we accessing all the
different elements that could trigger either the lack of
material or a significant increase, or vice versa?" she
"Decide on a sourcing strategy which could be 75% on
commitment to 25% on the spot market, or some version of that,"
she said, explaining that different percentages depend on how
you use or sell or the customer pricing strategies.
Vareha-Walsh has learned how to set such ratios over the
years. She has extensive experience in cross-commodities
markets, including ammonium paratungstate, tantalum and cobalt
during a decade with Kennametal, followed by three years with
nickel, chrome, molybdenum, niobium, etc, with specialty alloys
producer Carpenter Technology Corp - as its director of global
procurement. Since joining Indium Corp in 2015, she has focused
on tin, silver and gold, and the minor metals indium, gallium
and germanium. She has held different positions in the company
and still sees great opportunities for the business to grow
"I wake up every day to keep our company competitive," she
Her background in international tax and finance has been a
big asset in working in the metals industry, as have her
studies in accounting, finance and business. She holds a
bachelor’s degree in finance from Duquesne
University, an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and was
also a certified public accountant.
She relishes the variety of responsibilities that her career
in metals has provided. "The biggest highlights of my career
are having had the opportunity to work in various functional
capacities… being able to work in finance, in sales and
operations," she said.
Alongside her demanding role with Indium Corp, in 2020,
Vareha-Walsh was elected chair of the MMTA, a not-for-profit
organization that comprises companies actively involved in all
aspects of the international minor metals sector.
Founded in 1968, the association’s members are
involved in 49 metals that are generally not traded on
exchanges. Vareha-Walsh will serve as chair of the MMTA for the
next three years, having succeeded the previous chair and
on-going committee member Simon Boon, vice president of
Sovereign International Metals & Alloys Inc.
Vareha-Walsh is the first female and first American chair of
the MMTA, but when that was mentioned in discussion she
stressed instead the importance of hard work to make career
progress rather than focusing on her gender.
"Yes, I am the first woman in this position, but I am not
sure why there have not been others. Throughout my career, I
have never felt that being a woman has put me at a
disadvantage," she said. "I think that anyone that works hard
and makes sure that they understand their job can excel at it.
If you work hard, the opportunities will follow," she said.
She has big plans for the MMTA. "We want to make sure that
we keep and grow the spirit of the MMTA," she said. Bringing
more industrial players into the association and increasing the
membership is one of her priorities. "I think that we have a
lot of opportunity to further penetrate the overall minor metal
industry from mine to consume... For example, Intel Corp just
joined the association this year. That’s a big
company that is doing a lot of electronics, and the electronic
industry uses a lot of minor metals."
Equally important for the MMTA is to increase business
networks and access to policy making, giving guidance on the
implications of duties or tariffs and any practical information
that is important to anyone buying or selling minor metals,
from warehousing to transport or trade regulations.
The year 2020 was not an easy one for the MMTA, as some of
its members were dramatically impacted by the Covid-19
pandemic. "Our events are our major revenue driver; the
pandemic limited our ability to hold one for 18 months and,
given the global Covid restrictions, the event would be limited
to US participants," Vareha-Walsh said.
The MMTA’s main annual event had to be canceled
twice due to travel restrictions, but the good news is that it
finally took place in mid-September in Charleston, South
Carolina. "It was well-attended by North American members,"
"It was good from the standpoint that we got to see a lot of
folks that we haven’t seen and focus on best
practices on how companies have managed thus far," she said,
adding that most of the conversations at the event,
unsurprisingly, revolved around current logistical challenges
and the global shortage of shipping containers, contributing to
the skyrocketing shipping costs.
MMTA conferences, seminars and, of course, other major
events like LME Week with the associated multiple meetings of
metal traders in London during normal times play a key role in
the minor metals industry, which is a relatively small and
friendly market, in which many market participants, even those
who are competitors in business, are quite familiar with each
other. Among them, Vareha-Walsh, an enthusiastic presenter, is
a well-known face to be found at many conferences or business
"I was in Asia, either China, Japan or Korea, typically
every two to three months, either for a conference or [to see]
a customer, a supplier, or one of my team members," she
When asked if the lack of face-to-face meetings impacted
business, Vareha-Walsh responded, "It is not the same; it is a
little bit different. With some suppliers [the situation] has
not changed, but each country is different. In Asia, that
[meeting-in-person] piece of the business has been lost. In the
US, we don’t meet for a coffee or a drink as
The fewer opportunities for direct human interaction are
missed by the minor metals trade, Vareha-Walsh noted, since the
normal ability to have a cup of coffee or a drink with someone
and to exchange information is not the same as exchanging
emails with them. "I am anxious to see and meet our member base
as well as some of my customers and some of their customers and
suppliers. I’m anxious to see them because I
haven’t seen them in so long," she said.
Minor metals potential
The MMTA’s recent conference also addressed the
way that new applications for minor metals are driving changes
in their markets. In particular, Vareha-Walsh sees potential
from the Internet of Things, 5G and, especially in the US,
automation. In these areas, germanium, used in infrared lenses,
and gallium, a key component for the development of 5G networks
through gallium arsenide and gallium nitride semiconductors,
have great prospects in the years ahead, she said.
Other factors, such as recycling, are important too, as the
circular economy has created a shift in the use of metals from
a production-to-disposal mentality toward reuse and recycling.
Many minor metals are well suited to this shift in economic
model because they have recycling loops of high economic value.
"There’s a lot of focus going forward on the
end-of-life of electronics that are absorbing all these metals
and then bringing them back into the supply chain through
recycling," Vareha-Walsh said.
For example, indium metal recovery from indium tin oxide
(and sputtering production waste has a high recovery rate. The
recycling aspect, in her view, will also prevent any shortage
of the silvery-white metal, which was seen in 2011 when demand
for liquid crystal displays, one of its main applications,
Indium has multiple applications in growing
Many minor metal markets rely on China as a source of supply
and demand, but history shows that the physical fundamentals
affecting their balance are not always the only factor at play.
Memories of the fall of the Fanya Metal Exchange in 2015, for
example, still overshadow some minor metals markets to this
The Chinese exchange, launched in 2011, provided an
additional outlet for producers to sell their material and gave
a group of investors an opportunity to step into what had
previously been considered a specialist market. But problems
began to show at the end of 2014 when some investors became
wary as metal stocks piled up due to new production coming on
stream to feed surging demand for the exchange’s
products. With sentiment souring, the exchange found itself
exposed to continually falling prices for metals, while also
being accused of failing to pay suppliers. The bourse was shut
down in 2015 following investors’ protests.
The stockpile of about 3,629 tonnes of indium, which is
equivalent to about six years’ worth of global
consumption, as well as significant quantities of 13 other
minor metals, overhung the markets and prices fell to
multi-year lows until Vital Materials purchased the stocks in
In July 2021, the market situation changed and
China’s spot indium price increased by 45%,
reaching its highest point in two and a half years. This big
rise was driven, in large part, by trading on the Wuxi
Stainless Steel Exchange, which is one of the largest
marketplaces for steel traders and distributors in China.
European prices climbed too.
"There is no fundamental change in the indium market
creating an increase so dramatic. There is no big change in
demand – it is not like a new technology came in,"
This situation has created a concern shared across the minor
metals trade, she added. Within the minor metals industry,
there is a general consensus that most minor metals, with the
exception of cobalt, do not have enough liquidity and the
hedging tools needed to be traded on an exchange.
Vareha-Walsh sees similarities now with the trading that was
seen on the Fanya Metal Exchange: "We are seeing the same
behavior – interested parties are trying to get higher
prices today to sell in a future exchange," she said.
Leading a team
Sharing her knowledge about the intricacies of the markets with
her team so that they can apply it in their own way is one of
Vareha-Walsh’s biggest passions. During discussion
with Metal Market Magazine, she was in Turin, Italy,
doing sales training. "I really like developing people from all
over the world... They bring a lot," she said.
"I have a super team; very dedicated professionals that work
hard. It is my team that allows me to be successful." The team
she leads is global, with its members based in China, South
Korea, Malaysia, Europe and the US.
"I’m used to working as a global team
– 7am meetings work well to have everyone on board,"
she said. Her day starts with Asia, then Europe and North
America, to focus on Asia again after 7pm. She is always "on
call" if anything urgent needs to be addressed, she said, but
she also knows how to delegate as a matter of trust and as a
form of empowerment.
"I like to make sure that my teams are empowered; I provide
the strategy direction and objectives, and they decide the
course,’’ she said. She and the team
pursue every avenue in which they see an opportunity. While she
works for a big company, its culture is entrepreneurial.
For her, the role of a mentor in every stage of career
development has been greatly valued. Her mentor at the global
tungsten company she worked for, Gary Weissman, supported her
to achieve many of her goals and take the leap out of finance
into sales and operations.
"It is important that a mentor is judgement free; that you
can ask questions about any topics you are trying to deal with;
and that they’re someone that you can talk to
openly and freely," she said.
She wants to do the same for her colleagues. "Even as a
sales director, I can share with them experiences from
procurement that can be useful when they’re coming
to sell a product." Her advice to people new in the industry is
to learn as much as they can, to understand how the pricing is
set, and understand the players in the markets and the
import/export environment. "Looking for opportunities, looking
on how to make your company competitive. Never stop learning,"
The rewards of less travel
While Vareha-Walsh does miss the business advantages of
travelling, one of the personal upsides generated by
internatonal travel restrictions is that she has been able to
look after herself more by eating healthier and having more
time for exercise – as well as using additional time
spent at home to get to know her husband again, she said.
"During Covid, I took advantage of the opportunity to get
healthier, to make my own food, work out longer and be more
consistent in my workouts," she said. "I was able to lose
weight that I gained during the last 20 years of traveling and
being at work, and not always being available to make my own
healthy food or exercise."
She went biking and skiing more: "They are both great
Although traveling less for work, she and her husband still
managed to do plenty of skiing. "Working from home also gave my
husband, who runs his own business not related to the industry,
a better feel for the challenges of my job, how global it is
and how, at times, it can cause for some sleepness nights. I
think he’s getting a better appreciation of my
professional life," she said.