Commentary: It’s time for a few more crazy ideas

Aurania Resources chairman and CEO Keith Barron reading a letter by Columbus, Archive of the Indies. Credit: Aurania Resources.Aurania Resources chairman and CEO Keith Barron reading a letter by Columbus, Archive of the Indies. Credit: Aurania Resources.

In his 2016 memoir, Nike founder Phil Knight recalls being 24 years old and having what he calls a “crazy idea.”

He writes: “That morning in 1962, I told myself: let everyone else call your idea crazy … just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

Now, the shoe business is not the mining business — but business is business.

I have been fortunate in my career to be able to help people with crazy ideas. I’m not sure that they themselves would refer to them as crazy ideas, but I will use the term broadly here to mean a “eureka” or “aha” moment.

For most of my career, I have advised people involved in the mining sector. They are a breed apart, and the great ones are true visionaries who have blazed the way for an entire industry.

 Inductee Pierre Lassonde (left) is introduced by colleague Seymour Schulich at the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame's induction ceremony in Toronto. Photo by John Cumming

Inductee Pierre Lassonde (left) is introduced by colleague Seymour Schulich at the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony in Toronto in 2013. Photo by John Cumming.

I cut my teeth as a junior securities lawyer being involved with Franco Nevada, which was then a pretty small company started by legendary entrepreneurs — and now philanthropists — Pierre Lassonde and Seymour Schulich. They had a crazy idea involving creating oil- and gas-style royalties for the mining sector.

When I was not on that file, I was working as part of a team with another then-small company called Corona Corp., which fought all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada for the Hemlo gold mine, which is now part of Barrick Gold.

I have assisted and advised people looking for diamonds in Canada’s Far North. How about that for a crazy idea? Just ask Chuck Fipke, Gren Thomas or Eira Thomas how that worked out.

I have helped people wanting to reprocess copper tailings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and search for metals in places spanning the globe, including Turkey, South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and once upon a time, even China.

Not all these ventures have worked out, but a number have. And I have learned along the way from all of them.

More recently, Sean Roosen, Bryan Coates and John Burzynski turned a hostile takeover into the formation of the next stage of the Osisko crazy idea.

While Barrick execs Mark Bristow and John Thornton may not refer to the merger of Barrick and Randgold Resources as a crazy idea, Mark did remind a roomful of people recently of my stunned silence when he engaged our help this past summer.

But see what they are creating — and they are not stopping. A Nevada joint venture between Barrick  and (now) Newmont Goldcorp seemed crazy for years, but now is a reality.

Against significant odds, Boris Kamstra and his team at Alphamin Resources are building a tin mine in the DRC, and Aurania Resources’ Keith Barron is chasing gold and copper in Ecuador, based on his research at the Vatican, and other national libraries.

And while not mining per se, a young fellow out of New York City named Nicholas Snyder and his firm North American Helium are exploring and developing primary helium deposits in Saskatchewan.

Crazy ideas, all.

It’s time for more crazy ideas in this industry. This industry needs it. The world needs it — even if many people without any thought are dismissive of it.

As Nike said encouragingly in a full-page ad in The Globe and Mail, after the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship: “It’s only crazy until you do it. Just Do It.”

Jay C. Kellerman

Jay C. Kellerman is a Partner of law firm Stikeman Elliott LLP, practicing in the Toronto and London, U.K., offices. He is Head of the Mining Group and a member of the Mergers & Acquisitions and Capital Markets Groups. Visit www.stikeman.com for more information.

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