Frank Giustra: A Man of Many Hats

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Frank Giustra | BCBusiness
Image by: Paul Joseph
Giustra, who is known for his charisma as much as his business instinct, made the move from mining magnate to movie mogul.

Frank Giustra changes direction as regularly as the wind, turning whatever catches his interest to gold. He wanted to be a stockbroker, so he became a legend on Howe Street. He dreamed of Hollywood, so he built Lions Gate Entertainment. And when he wanted to truly give back, he called Bono and the Clintons. Now with a black book of personal contacts who literally change the world, Giustra can’t wait to tell you about his new venture.

Catch the elevator up to the 31st floor of the Bentall Three tower on Vancouver’s Burrard Street and you will find the corner office of Canada’s master of extracting the planet’s buried resources and transforming them into stock-market riches. But today Frank Giustra, a man who has raised billions of dollars that have created mines around the globe, doesn’t want to talk mining. His mind is on another commodity and his newest passion: oil. Not the kind you drill for and put in pipelines stretching to the Pacific, mind you. This kind literally grows on trees: olive oil.

Sitting beside Giustra is Cesare Bianchini, an Italian farmer who is the CEO of the Giustra company that has spent the past few years amassing a grove of 9,000 olive trees in Italy. It’s part of Giustra’s plan to produce the planet’s best olive oil and launch a food production business he says will aim to give people the food they want and deserve. “This is what must come out: beautiful, green, emerald, intense,” gushes Bianchini, eyeing the boss as he shows pictures of his latest harvest flowing from the presses.

“Green gold,” whispers Giustra with a chuckle.

“Yes, green gold!” repeats Bianchini, smiling like an alchemist who has hit the motherlode.

Giustra has branded his oil Domenica Fiore, named after his Italian mother. A sample sits on his office coffee table, contained in a gleaming silver bottle that looks like it may be the valve of a rocket ship. It’s made of carefully milled aluminum, Giustra explains with evident pride. Each bottle gets a lot number, like a collectible wine or precious art print. And with the pride of the perfectionist he is, Giustra has instructed that every bottle be injected with nitrogen to keep oxygen away from the precious fluid. “Our plan is to make the best olive oil in the world,” he says. “Hillary loves it.”

Hillary is, yes, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, to whom Giustra gave some oil to test. U2 singer Bono, with whom Giustra collaborates in international development work, has some of the oil, too. So does Bill Clinton, a Giustra pal who often darts around the globe on Giustra’s corporate jet, both men playing card games at 40,000 feet on their way to developing countries on the former president’s roster of relief projects.

Clinton
Image: Courtesy Frank Giustra
Giustra at global philanthropic
initiatives with former President Bill
Clinton and Carlos Slim Helu.

Welcome to the high-flying world of Frank Giustra, not only one of Canada’s most successful businessmen, but perhaps one of its most intriguing and influential. The son of an Italian immigrant who came to Canada with little more than a suitcase and dreams, Giustra boasts a resumé that would challenge the imagination of Walter Mitty. At the age of 55, he can justifiably call himself a mining magnate who travels the continents creating billions in wealth; a movie mogul (founder of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.); the architect of a major brokerage house (past CEO and chair of Yorkton Securities); a local philanthropist (the driving force behind Vancouver’s Streetohome Foundation, dedicated to ending homelessness); a global influencer (joining billionaire George Soros as the main contributor to the International Crisis Group); and a major funder of the Clinton Foundation (having donated $130 million to date). His Rolodex contains the personal cell numbers of the sort of people most of us only see on TV or in People magazine.

So what’s the secret of this made-in-Canada Horatio Alger story? Giustra has the answer at the ready, attributing much of his success to the rules of leadership he read after graduating from high school: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Writing during the Depression, Hill boiled the principles of robber baron-turned-industrialist Andrew Carnegie and other success stories into an easy-to-read tome. It offers such folksy advice as, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

“I can’t remember who gave me the book,” says Giustra. “I read it and I’ll tell you, something happened.”

To this day, says Giustra, it influences his business and life philosophy. One of his little-known charity passions is to mentor and inspire disadvantaged children in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He often goes to a high school and offers them the Napoleon Hill credo. “Really the core thing I got out of [the book] was if you really believe in what you are doing, you can do it. Almost anything is possible in life. And I mean it. When I mentor the kids at these schools, that’s what I tell them.”

He has also added one of his favourite insights from Steve Jobs, who in a famous speech to Stanford’s 2005 graduating class told the students they all shared one thing: one day they were all going to die. “We’re all goners anyway,” says Giustra. “Go for it. I live by this philosophy. I get up in the morning and say, ‘OK, do not waste this day.’ If you apply that philosophy to life, to the things you do in life, why would you be afraid of failure?”

From anyone else it may come off as a collection of clichés or prepackaged bromides, but as Giustra leans back in his plush office sofa, his back to the wraparound view that offers him an eagle-eye perspective on Vancouver, it’s convincing. When he launches into a 90-minute narrative of how he got to the top of the food chain, you are left with no doubt: this guy really did channel Napoleon Hill to transform himself from a wayward, working-class kid into one of the world’s richest and most influential men.


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