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Ian Telfer is about to accept a lifetime achievement award, but he has no intention of slowing down. The 68-year-old entrepreneur and chairman of Goldcorp Inc. will be inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame Thursday night in recognition of more than three decades of success in the industry. Mr. Telfer recently overcame a cancer scare, and is now brimming with energy and excitement as he plots Goldcorp’s future. He sat down with the Financial Post’s Peter Koven to discuss his career, his company and the gold business.
Q How did Goldcorp become the world’s biggest gold company?
A I think in all industries, there is a time where you can create something meaningful. There was a time to create Microsoft, there was a time to create Apple, and there was a time to create Goldcorp. And we just happened to be doing it at the right time. At the bottom of the last cycle, when it was very bleak and gold was US$250, Frank Giustra and I said we should get back into gold. We had never worked together. We just believed that the price of gold was going to go up and it was going to go up fast.
If we were going to participate in this, we’d better get out there and acquire gold assets as fast as we can. Over a five-year period, virtually every gold asset that came available went to auction, and we outbid everybody else because we had a more passionate view of what the gold price was going to do. And we happened to be right.
Q How did you avoid the errors that felled many of your competitors?
A Very early on in my career, I became debt-averse. So Goldcorp has been the most under-leveraged of the majors. If you look at our industry, the reason the price of the commodity becomes such a big challenge is because of debt. We had a few philosophical [ideas] early on: We were only going to stay in three time zones; we were never going to do grassroots exploration because it’s too uncertain; we were only going to acquire things where we knew what was there; and stay out of debt. Just because the bank will lend you the money doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Q Goldcorp is having a rough time in with the Cerro Negro project in Argentina right now. Are you confident the problems can be resolved?
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