Tire Gray didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming the head of a mining trade association.
Teaching, he thought, was his calling.
“I studied education in college and taught at a high-risk school in San Diego where the school population was 92 percent minority,” said Gray, who is 40. “And at the age of 20, I was a teacher and I was really a father figure to 12 and 13 year olds.
But it was a chance meeting over drinks at a bar that set him on the path to law school and 2020 to become the first black president of the Nevada Mining Association.
In 2001, Gray moved to Las Vegas to work in the music department at Silverado High School. He said that one evening, over drinks in a bar, he was offered the opportunity to switch gears and work in hospitality and help open the Palms hotel-casino.
“It was a chance encounter, and I always say my life is what happens when you say ‘Yes’ to a random question,” he said.
After helping to open the Palms, he then worked at Caesars Palace. The experiments brought new skills that, according to Gray, “paid off.”
Law school ‘gave me an extra goal’
Around the same time, he began to get sick “to the point where I couldn’t work.”
Gray said he was diagnosed with kidney disease in his early 20s and was placed on a waiting list for a transplant.
“I decided to go to law school while I was on that list,” he said of enrolling at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.
“Having an outlet really helped me survive,” Gray said of law school. “Because it really was, I think it gave me an extra purpose to go on living.”
He graduated in 2014 and joined the law firm Fennemore Craig, where he worked as a lobbyist for mining companies.
“I got smart about mining issues,” Gray said. “Having connections and a good personality gets you the door, but what will really keep you there is building a knowledge base. I decided to become a tax expert.
When Gray’s predecessor, Dana Bennett, announced in late 2019 that she was retiring from the association, she phoned him. Bennett, the first woman to become president of the business group, told Gray he would be a great successor. “It was very intentional of him and very visionary to think about how we can continue to foster diversity in mining,” he said.
After several in-person interviews, Gray got the job in early 2020.
“My qualifications also spoke for themselves, so it wasn’t a diversity hire, it was a qualification hire that has the added benefit of having diversity,” he said.
“I didn’t even think about it in the context of me being the first African-American business official in the state until someone mentioned it,” Gray said.
Christina Erling, a member of the association’s board of directors and head of government affairs for North America at Barrick Gold Corp., told the Review-Journal that Gray was the right choice to lead the association.
“Tyre took on this role just before the pandemic hit and rose to every challenge while learning on the fly and managing a diverse association,” Erling said. “He was able to effectively advocate for the industry at a time when stakeholder relationship building in the traditional sense was unavailable…I think we all learned as much from him as we did from us. “
Diversity should be intentional
Gray notes that it is easy to establish entry-level diversity, but harder to achieve professional-level diversity. “You have to be intentional about it. You have to be ready to say, ‘Hey, this is what we want and we’re recruiting for this,’ he said.
Gray said he makes sure the mining industry attracts a pool of candidates from diverse backgrounds.
“The interesting part of any industry’s diversification is just the island nature of the community,” he said. In the mining industry, Gray noted, it’s not uncommon to find a father, son, and grandfather working at a mine site.
“What this means is that these communities are exposed to these jobs; the ability to expose other communities to these opportunities (is) what can help foster diversity,” he said.
Gray highlighted some of the benefits of the industry, noting that it pays the highest average salaries in the state, at around $90,000 a year with other benefits, health care and retirement.
“We are robust; we are the 12th largest industry in the state,” he said. “Mining jobs are the American dream jobs that allow people to support their families and build a stronger next generation.”
Gray also takes with him lessons learned growing up in a San Diego neighborhood that he notes “are not on the postcards.”
Education as an equalizer
His mother made him understand from an early age the importance of academics and staying focused on his studies.
“She went out of her way to apply for me to go to Longfellow Elementary School, a language immersion school,” putting him on the waitlist at age 3.
At age 5, Gray entered and attended school in an affluent neighborhood near the beach towns of San Diego. It was his first time in a predominantly white neighborhood, and he learned from the experience later in life.
“It really helped me navigate a world with different races and different faces all the time,” he said. “And so, learning that at a young age, my mother instilled in me that education was a great equalizer, and I still believe that’s true today.”
Gray also has a message for young people. “I would just continue to encourage the next generation of tires to keep working hard and being prepared for random opportunities.”