What makes Telfer tick

Ian Telfer is a Canadian mining legend who, in little more than a dozen years, has steered Goldcorp to its current position as the world’s top gold miner by market capitalization. Integral to Goldcorp’s rapid growth has been the company’s discipline, which enabled it to bypass pitfalls that have sidelined other gold miners. Shares of Barrick Gold (the world’s top producer), Kinross and Yamana are all bleeding through 52-week lows.

Goldcorp chairman Ian Telfer in front of the business school that bears his name. (University of Ottawa Gazette photo)

I recently interviewed the Goldcorp chairman in his Park Place corner office, high atop downtown Vancouver, for a Vancouver Sun feature. The elevator on his floor has no Up button, but Telfer has seen adversity close-up and his feet appear to be firmly planted on the ground. His own academic experience – he barely got into the University of Ottawa business school, which now bears his name after a $25-million donation – has given him a healthy respect for the underdog. In fact, Telfer still considers himself one.

Gold remains mired around $1,200 US an ounce, down 37% from its 2011 highs, but Goldcorp is generating cash flow, paying a dividend (current yield 2.7%) and opening new, internally developed mines. A rare loss for Goldcorp was being outbid earlier this year on Osisko Mining’s Malartic gold mine in Quebec, which Yamana and Agnico Eagle teamed up to buy for $3.9 billion. In our interview, Telfer was philosophical about walking away from Malartic: “Osisko had a higher value to them at this point in time than it had to us.”

Time will tell how much of a win Malartic – which does have well-below-average cash costs per ounce – was for Yamana and Agnico Eagle. It was a hefty price tag for the partners, which currently have a combined market cap of roughly $11.8 billion.

I learned during the interview that boundless curiousity is part of what makes Telfer tick. He’s a voracious reader and avid traveller who attended the recent World Cup in Brazil, his home for 5 years while he worked with Eike Batista, the now-broke billionaire, at TVX Gold. Telfer could be in Iran right now — at the time of the interview, he and his wife were booked to travel to the Persian nation this month, stop No. 98 on the Ian Telfer World Tour.

Interestingly, the size of Telfer’s stakes in two upstart companies he’s involved with – Renaissance Oil and Catalyst Copper – rival the value of his ownership position in Goldcorp stock. Both companies are partnerships with Goldcorp cofounder Frank Giustra. Renaissance is assembling shale gas properties in Mexico, while Catalyst is a base metals play advancing the La Verde copper project, also in Mexico.

Here’s my Vancouver Sun feature. Enjoy!

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