Lisa Wright is a business reporter with the Toronto Star, which has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on Canada’s federal and provincial politics as well as shaping public opinion. This article was originally published October 31, 2010.
His father [Stephen Roman] was a well-known [Denison Mines’ uranium operations at Elliot Lake] mining icon, but Stephen Roman is digging up his own success
Stephen Roman has endured various viruses and parasites and all manner of poisonous spiders and snakes – even a few on Bay St.—while prospecting for oil and metals around the world over the last 30 years.
The 57-year-old mining entrepreneur nearly died from cerebral malaria three years ago, when he lapsed into a coma after being bitten by mosquitoes at night in the Sahara Desert in uranium-rich Niger.
And his original exploration firm Exall Resources Ltd. suffered through an industry downturn so deep during the dot-com craze 10 years ago that he was forced to sell off his furniture and artwork to keep it afloat as metals prices tanked.
“That’s the hazard of the business,” the affable financier says in an interview. “People may think it’s all glamorous but there are a lot of risks. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it all adds to the fun.”
On top of all that, Stephen G. Roman – son of the late mining magnate Stephen B. Roman – has carried on the family name, and despite all the weight that carries has managed to stake out his own Roman empire.
Just a week before the market plummeted in 2008, the junior Roman sold Gold Eagle Mines and its coveted asset in Red Lake for $1.5 billion to giant Goldcorp Inc. – one of the highest prices ever paid to a non-operating junior whose discovery was not yet a proven resource.
And with some promising drilling up in northern Ontario, he and his Harte Gold investors bet they may be sitting on the next big gold find in the storied Hemlo gold camp, which was the centre of a Klondike-style gold rush in the early 1980s and is now run by Barrick Gold Corp. about 350 km east of Thunder Bay.
When the elder Roman died of a heart attack in 1988 he was described as a daring, dynamic and tough-as-nails corporate titan who made a major contribution to the Canadian economy.
The Depression-era immigrant turned Elliot Lake into a uranium goldmine from the mid-1950s to its closure in 1992. The renowned taskmaster sat atop a $10-billion company that owned the country’s largest uranium mine along with oil and gas interests, cement operations, a paper mill and trust firm.
A religious man, he even built an enormous gold-domed cathedral for the Slovak Catholic community in Markham, which was blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1984. Nearby was the family’s “Romandale” estate, which included an 1,100-acre farm where he raised and auctioned off his prized Holsteins.
Being the son of an icon should have its privileges, but the younger Roman says it didn’t pan out that way.
“He was pretty tough on me. He was a Slovak, and I was his first-born son,” recalls Roman, whose father’s picture sits above him on the side wall, overlooking his shiny desk in a King St. E. office tower.
Says Barry Allan, metals analyst at Mackie Research Capital in Toronto: “His father had a notorious reputation for being a control freak, and he had a lot of detractors,” including an unflattering, unauthorized biography published after his death.
Still, Roman credits his dad with having a profound influence on his mining career. “And one thing he always said: ‘If you want to have money, you have to earn it yourself’.”
The younger Roman took that to heart. He started out on the family farm, milking cows and baling hay. His first time underground was at the age of 5 at the old Denison mine his father famously ran and developed in Elliot Lake. He started working there at 19, but first he tried other things on for size.
He left home at 16 and finished high school in Europe. “I moved to Switzerland and took a baccalaureat. I did Grade 13 at a Canadian school and went to Grenoble (France) the following year. My father wanted me to learn French because he was involved in mining in Canada and northern Ontario, where a lot of people speak French.”
He does speak French and is fluent in Slovak to the point that he spearheaded the privatization of two major petro-chemical companies in Slovakia in 2000, “back when gold was in a slump at $250 (U.S. an ounce) and everything was dried up thanks to Bre-X,” the Canadian company caught salting gold samples.
Of all things, Roman – whose grounding was on the farm and underground – first worked on oil rigs and then decided to study marine biology at the University of Guelph.
He smirks at that memory now. “I lasted one semester.”
After university he started work at Denison, where he earned a training certificate from working with the guys in the mine and became immersed in all aspects of the company.
Didn’t the miners consider him a daddy’s boy?
“No way. Everyone knew I had experience working underground in the mines. Besides, I think if you were wet behind the ears and throwing your weight around, I’m sure you’d get a lot of people that would be resentful,” he notes.
Forthe rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/business/companies/article/879265–stephen-roman-digging-up-his-own-success