Walter Gretzky famously advised his son Wayne to “skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been.” In the mining industry today, there’s no better exemplar of someone living that kind of wisdom than entrepreneur Ross Beaty, our selection as 2011’s Northern Miner Person of the Year.
Based in Vancouver, Beaty has been a driving force behind many wildly successful mineral explorers and junior mining companies over almost four decades, and has already been well-rewarded and recognized for his efforts. Over the last 25 years he has started 12 public companies and sold eight of them, converting about $1 billion of investment capital into shareholder wealth of more than $5 billion.
But 2011 was framed by two particularly sweet periods for Beaty: in January there was full fruition of the long-predicted blossoming of the silver market and the benefits created for silver miner Pan American Silver, which was carefully created and nurtured by Beaty in the nineties during the nadir of the silver market (and where he still serves as chairman); and, in the closing months of 2011, the almost too-easy grassroots exploration success at Lumina Copper’s large and growing Taca Taca copper-gold-molybdenum deposit in Argentina – the last major unsold asset left from the bundle of large copper deposits that Beaty and his team gathered under one corporate roof in 2003, similarly during a period of low copper prices.
And that’s not all: Beaty’s Midas touch extends – appropriately enough – into the gold sector, where his new, private-investment vehicle Lumina Capital scored a major payday on its shareholding in Colombian-focused gold explorer Ventana Gold, which was bought in early 2011 by Eike Batista’s EBX Group for $1.5 billion in cash. Another Beaty vehicle, Lumina Royalty and its royalties on four former Lumina-related copper deposits in the Andes, was sold off a few weeks ago to Franco Nevada for $66 million.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Beaty inherited a love of the outdoors and business from his father, an entrepreneur in the forestry sector who was killed in a car crash in South America when Beaty was 22.
When The Northern Miner caught up with Beaty on a recent site visit to Taca Taca, the easygoing mining mogul fielded questions about his storied career. He had his first rock hammer at the age of six, his first rock collection at the age of eight and, when he took his first geology class as a university student, it was “love at first sight.”
Beaty earned a bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of British Columbia and a master’s degree in mineral exploration at the Royal School of Mines in London, before returning home to top off his education with a law degree from UBC in 1979.
His first substantial business was a geological consulting company, but he soon realized there was a lot more money in developing and selling mineral assets than billing others for his crew’s labour.
Beaty got a taste of the big time in 1994 by selling his first public company, a small gold miner named Equinox Resources, to Hecla Mining in a $107-million deal. He used the proceeds to start what would become the world’s second-largest primary silver producer, Pan American Silver, which today boasts eight operating mines in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, and a market cap of $2.4 billion.
In 2003, around the end of a five-year bear market for copper, Beaty gathered 10 large, low-grade copper deposits in the Americas under the Lumina banner, and sold all of them – except Taca Taca – over the next five years at a tidy profit to major mining companies hungry for new ore sources.
The downturn in late 2008 made the Beaty team press the “pause” button on developing Taca Taca in Argentina’s Salta province, only returning in mid-2010 with an aggressive drilling program. Today, Lumina Copper is run by long-time business partner David Strang, and Beaty holds no formal role in the company, but owns roughly a third of its shares.
In the larger mining community, Beaty served as a president of the Silver Institute – where he kept spirits up among silver bugs during their darkest days in the late nineties – and is a fellow of the Geological Association of Canada and the Canadian Institute of Mining, and also a recipient of the institute’s Past President Memorial Medal.
With his enviable track record, the awards have already piled up for Beaty: in 2007 the Association of Mineral Exploration of British Columbia bestowed the Colin Spence Award for excellence in global mineral exploration; in 2008, the Mining Association of British Columbia named him its Mining Person of the Year; and in 2010, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada presented him with its Viola MacMillan Award for demonstrating leadership in management and financing for the exploration and development of mineral resources.
Apart from his foresight and technical abilities, several other traits have been integral to Beaty’s remarkable string of successes: an unwaveringly sunny personality, an ability to relate to all kinds of people, a tremendous personal energy, and high ethical standards.
In his home life, he is married to Vancouver doctor and fellow UBC grad Patricia Beaty and they have five children. The couple has expanded their philanthropy in recent years, including an $8-million donation to help build the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC, the spearheading of a campaign to build a new $75-million geology building at UBC and a $2-million donation to help spruce up the British Columbia Museum of Mining. The two are also officers and co-founders of the Sitka Foundation, which supports environmental stewardship.
Indeed, Beaty’s latest venture has a “green” tinge to it: TSX Venture Exchange-listed Magma Energy has been building up geothermal power generation capacity across the world’s literal hotspots.
With Beaty as vibrant as ever, in the years ahead we’ll look for more intriguing, far-sighted mining deals, a stepping up of the Beaty family’s philanthropy and a spot being prepared for Beaty in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.
The serial entrepreneur has an adventurous streak that extends far past his day job. Not long ago the motorcycle enthusiast spent a month driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Munich, and likes telling the story of how he figured out a way of sneaking past Chinese toll booths along the way . . .