Former Silver Standard president and CEO, Robert Quartermain, moves on to his next mining venture.
In his 25-year career leading Silver Standard Resources Inc., Robert Quartermain oversaw its growth from a two-person junior explorer to a mine operator with a market capitalization of $2.1 billion. So expectations are high for the 55-year-old’s new venture, Pretium Resources. He will be hunting for gold on two former Silver Standard properties in northern B.C., both bought from Silver Standard for $215 million in cash and shares representing roughly a 40 per cent stake in the new company. With December’s $238-million IPO, Pretium is already making a splash. Quartermain seems unperturbed about moving from a large mining company to a small one and from silver to gold. He’s just happy to be exploring again.
You spent many years building Silver Standard. What made you decide it was time to do something new?
When I started with Silver Standard in 1985, it was a company of two: myself and a secretary. When I left, we were on the order of 800 to 900 employees and contractors, with projects around the world. But in recent years, I’ve also set Silver Standard up as a long-term call option on the silver price. We find it and know it can be developed sometime down the road, but we’re finding it so cheap that we’re giving you a good option on the price of silver if it continues to go up. And the company got to a point where we had to focus more on that and needed to develop that corporate discipline. Professionally, I’m a geologist, and I wanted to continue to have an exploration focus, and early last year we agreed that it may be best if I took my retirement and Silver Standard continued to go forward with someone else. They retired me, I guess.
Did you enjoy any real retirement in that brief time off?
I didn’t retire from my profession, but it gave me time off to think. I’m from New Brunswick, so I flew to Halifax, shipped my car there, and took almost a month to drive back across the country, and had just a great time doing that. So I had the summer off, and the fall hit and gold prices were up and I thought, Let’s get back to work. What I really enjoy is the discovery. My plan is to be spending more time in the bush as a geologist, which is something I haven’t done for the last 10 or 15 years.
But you’re probably best known for your
success in the capital markets. How does that happen to a geologist?
For me it was a bit of a trial by fire. What got me into the exploration business back in the ’70s was that it was a great way to get out and travel. I was a Boy Scout and loved camping outdoors. I was an exploration geologist working for Teck at the Hemlo deposit in Ontario, and they asked me to run Silver Standard. I was a good geologist, but I hadn’t read a balance sheet. I’d never met a lawyer, never met an accountant, and then there’s the matter of going out and talking to investors. But if you get out and do good, honest exploration and you let the market know when you have successes and when you have disappointments, people get to be able to trust that you’re out there trying to do the best for them.
Seems like you got a good reception with the recent IPO. How would you describe the atmosphere out there in the investment community?
Very good. We hit a time where there is renewed confidence in gold. The U.S. dollar is a bit under pressure, and people are looking for other places to invest. When I spoke to investors in the fall, most were Silver Standard shareholders, and I found a good reception again, having a good project in a good mining-friendly jurisdiction at a time of the price being attractive.
There are a lot of exciting mining deals going on in B.C. today. But we all know that these good times come and go. Is this upturn different than past ones?
In a word, China. When I started my career in the ’70s, metals were trading high, and then in the early ’80s, metal prices fell off. That’s because we were largely dealing with the U.S. and other developed economies and what they were going through at that time. But along comes China. The Chinese are working hard and want to move forward, and they want all the material goods we have. The mining industry has developed by feeding North Americans their share of metals, and now you’ve just increased by an order of magnitude the number of people who want that.
What do you do when you’re not exploring or promoting?
I bought a small property on Keats Island, and in the summertime it’s refreshing to take the boat over, put in the lobster trap or the prawn trap and take stuff out of the garden and live off the land. We cut down some trees on the property and I’m just building a post and beam home over there that ultimately I’d like to retire on.
The new properties up north will likely take some time away from your homebuilding, I suppose.
They will, but that’s fine; they’re both passions I enjoy. I feel very fortunate.