Lunch with Randy Smallwood

Randy Smallwood, Silver Wheaton | BCBusiness

A self-proclaimed ‘treasure hunter,’ today Randy Smallwood spends more time in planes and boardrooms than getting his hands dirty in mining exploration camps

There’s something of the old pioneer in Randy Smallwood. Today the CEO and president of Silver Wheaton, the Vancouver-headquartered mining company, is needed more in the boardroom than in the field, but three times a year—“as much as possible”—he heads back to the mine environment where he spent much of his 28-year career.

“I love having dirt underneath my fingernails,” he says, recalling time spent in his early 20s staking mineral claims in Alaska and B.C. “Many times in my youth I rued the fact I was born several centuries later. I loved the vision of the explorers of Europe reaching out into areas of what they thought were unmanned lands.”

It was a vision that pushed the Vancouver native into studying geological engineering at UBC and delving into the exploration side of businesses such as Homestake Mining, Teck Resources and Westmin Resources during the ’80s and ’90s. In 1993, he joined Wheaton River Minerals, which merged with Goldcorp in 2005.

“I think of myself as a treasure hunter,” the 48-year-old says over salmon at Gotham Steakhouse in Vancouver. “There is a raw sense of pleasure in finding value where there was none before.” Especially, he stresses, when mineral geology is one of the most challenging resources; oil and gas, for example, are more predictable through sedimentary layers. “In our industry, for every law and method there are all sorts of exceptions to the rules. You constantly have to be alert and flexible to be successful.”

Which could be said, of course, for his part in flexing a new method of paying for mines through the creation of “streaming”—or making contracts with mining companies where, for an advance payment, Silver Wheaton has the right to buy future silver (and some gold) production at a fixed cost. The idea was introduced in 2004, and the company was formed while he worked at Wheaton River/Goldcorp with its now chair Ian Telfer (whom he credits as the most significant influence for the streaming idea). Smallwood decided to concentrate solely on Silver Wheaton in 2007.

“Never be scared of thinking out of the box, which is exactly what this was,” advises Smallwood. Silver Wheaton’s major deals have included streams on Vale Canada’s Sudbury mine in Ontario and Pascua-Lama, the mine being built by Barrick Gold in the Chilean Andes. With a staff head count of only 28, he points out, Silver Wheaton’s $10-billion market capitalization is one of the most notable of any listed miner on a per-employee basis.

Pinballing between meetings with investors and shareholders and dealing with corporate development, Smallwood spends much time travelling. (I catch him just before he boards a plane to Los Angeles; the week before he was in South America.) “Sometimes I say that me being away is what keeps my marriage so healthy,” he says, with a cheeky laugh. “She’s only known me as someone who is out of town quite a bit,” he adds.

The day before we chat, he’d cycled around 100 kilometres near his Tsawwassen home, and he joins the Ride to Conquer Cancer from Vancouver to Seattle every summer. A soccer fan, he enjoyed coaching his five children (ranging in ages from 15 to 28) when they were younger. Now the ski races of his three teenagers absorb much of his time; the family has a place in Whistler where his children are part of the ski club. “I love being outdoors,” he says, with a nod to his mining life. “Just this time I’m happy living vicariously through my kids.”

Randy Smallwood’s Favourites

1. “For board meetings, we usually meet for breakfast as soon as the Pan Pacific (Suite 300-999 Canada Pl., Vancouver; opens at 6 a.m. I don’t usually eat much; I just have coffee—it’s the only vice I have left.”

2. ”It’s been my personal mission to find as good a salmon roll as the one at Miku (70-200 Granville St., Vancouver; I confess, I’ve even challenged my host in Tokyo to no avail. Miku definitely has the best sushi and I’m looking forward to seeing the deck over the water at its new location.”

3. ”For a smart evening meal or a quieter business lunch, I absolutely love Hawksworth Restaurant (801 W. Georgia St., Vancouver;—the food, the ambience. Chef David is amazing and I’m not sure Vancouver really realizes how lucky we are to have someone of his calibre here.”