Entrepreneur of the Year 2017: Mining & Metals

The annual Ernst & Young list of B.C.'s brightest business visionaries finds a fresh crop of leaders building empires in everything from renewable energy to venture capital to social enterprise

William Lamb
President and CEO, Lucara Diamond Corp. (Winner)

On a Sunday in October 2009, William Lamb got a text message from a friend in South Africa: “Do you have $42 million—because you may need it by the end of the week.”

“I knew straight away what it was for,” says the head of Lucara Diamond Corp. in his mile-a-minute South African lilt, recounting how he heard the tip that De Beers Group of Companies, his alma mater, planned to divest from a diamond project in Botswana. In the days that followed, Lamb and his Vancouver-based company’s chair, mining magnate Lukas Lundin, laid the groundwork for what would become one of the most successful new diamond mines of this decade, responsible for the second- and sixth-largest diamonds ever recovered.

A native of Johannesburg, Lamb began his career in mining at age 17 while studying plant metallurgy at what is now Johannesburg University. In his early years at Rand Mines in South Africa, he cycled through a diverse array of commodities—first coal, then gold, chrome, platinum and finally diamonds.

Lamb eventually found himself at diamond giant De Beers, which sent him to Canada in 2002 to work as a process plant manager at the Victor Diamond Mine in northern Ontario. In 2008, the team of investors behind Lucara approached him. They were looking for a diamond project, and Lamb set to work. Lucara had an option to earn a 51 per cent stake on a project in Lesotho, but not much more than that. In mid-2009, Lamb caught wind that De Beers was looking to divest its stake in a prospect in Botswana, so he hustled to get in on the project.

It was by no means plain sailing from there. Lamb credits Lucara’s ability to navigate the pitfalls of turning a discovery into an operating diamond mine to his team’s creative thinking—an ethos he follows himself.  “You have to look what they’re doing in pharmaceuticals, in food technology,” he says of mining processes that the company has pioneered. “People will often just say that it’s never been done before in the industry, but that’s not how we’ve approached it.”

What other career might you have had?
If I was not in mining, I would want to be an architect. The ability to combine art and engineering has always fascinated me

Steve de Jong
CEO, President and Director, Integra Gold Corp. (Runner-up)

Steve de Jong’s first week as CEO in 2008 was shakier than most. “I didn’t even answer the phone–I was too nervous,” he says. De Jong was also 25. But he proved adept as chief executive of Rogue Resources Inc., a Vancouver-based junior mining company with an interest in an iron ore asset. Two years later, de Jong took a leadership role at Kalahari Resources Inc., the predecessor of Integra Gold. He’s since grown Vancouver-headquartered Integra, which operates the Lamaque gold project in Quebec, from a $15 million penny stock to its $595 million acquisition by Vancouver’s Eldorado Gold Corp. in May.

De Jong entered the mining sector with his father, an RCMP officer who found a second career as an investor and junior board member upon retiring from the force in 2006. In de Jong’s view, his youth and his dad’s inexperience allowed them to ask no-nonsense questions. “In an industry with a lot of big personalities, I think it was refreshing for investors and people in our company to see that management style,” he says.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing
I forgot my dress shoes once and had to go to my early meetings with a suit and running shoes on

Leigh Curyer
President and CEO, NexGen Energy Ltd. (Runner-up)

There are few places farther from Australia than La Loche, Saskatchewan. Yet that’s where Leigh Curyer, an accountant by training and a native of Adelaide, found himself in late 2011 when his newly formed company, NexGen Energy, set to work developing its Arrow uranium project. It was hardly a propitious time for uranium. In the wake of the reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan, the industry entered a deep freeze. Curyer, formerly an analyst on the uranium desk at London-based private equity firm First Reserve International, found himself scouting for new opportunities. “I was confident the market was alive and well,” he says, “and I wanted to go out there and ask that question of myself–could I do it?” Commuting 11 times a year across the Pacific, he helped turn the two-tent camp near La Loche into a NASDAQ Stock Market-listed, 120-person uranium mining operation.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”
Friends and time with family