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TORONTO— Weeks away from ending a 21-year run at the helm of Sherritt International Corp., Ian Delaney has lost none of the bluster that defined his tumultuous reign at the mining conglomerate.
“I’m not retiring; I’m firing myself,” he says, flashing the toothy grin that years ago earned him the nickname, the Smiling Barracuda of Bay Street.
In January, Mr. Delaney, 68, will hand the reins to successor David Pathe, saying it’s time. “One of the disadvantages about getting old is you get too thoughtful. We need younger people who have higher energy levels,” Mr. Delaney says.
Still, talking to the chief executive officer over a simple lunch of baked chicken and steamed vegetables at Sheritt’s spartan offices in Toronto’s Rosedale neighbourhood, the Bay Street legend sounds more restless than tired. “The intensity is gone,” he says, poking at a steamed vegetable. “I can no longer flip the company on its ear every 18 months with a deal.”
A self-described “junk collector,” Mr. Delaney transformed Sherritt from a nearly bankrupt nickel refiner and fertilizer producer into a corporate flea market dealer that bought and repaired cast-off companies, everything from Alberta oil and gas operations to Cuban hotels.
Today, Sherritt has core holdings in nickel and coal mines and refineries stretching from Saskatchewan to Madagascar. The company is big, with annual revenue of $1.8-billion, and remains focused on long-term projects, such as its Sulawesi nickel venture with Rio Tinto in Indonesia. For Mr. Delaney, the adrenalin rush of deal making is fading.
Being “sensible” and “balanced” – the CEO spits these words out like they’re bones from a piece of fish – just isn’t for a barracuda. Not for an adventurer who likes to relax by flying his helicopter to the northern reaches of Ungava Bay.
Mr. Delaney will remain as non-executive chairman of Sherritt, but says he won’t often visit the six-storey beige-brick office building his company bought in 1997. The building is a favourite “junk” steal, acquired during the real estate crash for $3.25-million, an 80-per-cent markdown.
He will clear his fifth-floor office in January and move to a small room on a lower floor that he plans to occupy only when called to chair board meetings.
Mr. Delaney says he has “no idea” what he will do next, but vows to continue to rattle and shake the often circumspect Canadian business club.
He wrested control of Sherritt in 1990 by waging a then-rare proxy battle to successfully unseat a board that he warned was about to “tank” the company.
When Ontario announced shutdowns of coal-fired power plants in the mid-2000s, Mr. Delaney skewered the government for “appalling” mismanagement of the province’s electricity needs.
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