The International Metal Writers Conference hosted the world’s largest gathering of investment newsletter writers. (Photo: www.VisionPhoto.ca)
“It’s all about the people.” That sentiment popped up repeatedly this week at the International Metal Writers Conference, where several speakers related their most important consideration in evaluating stocks. Maybe no one expressed it more emphatically than Zimtu Capital TSXV:ZC president Dave Hodge, whose unamplified but booming voice overwhelmed the event’s microphone-dependent speakers, even seeming to threaten the Vancouver Convention Centre with seismic damage.
“No matter what the company is, no matter what the commodity is, what makes stocks successful is the management!” he roared. “What really determines a winner in this high-risk game is the management!”
Good people, he argued, will overcome bad projects. And it wasn’t just his volume that drove the point home. As newsletter writer David Morgan noted, “I think everyone from Rick Rule on down will tell you it’s all about the people.”
Rule expanded on that the following morning when he said, “The most important determinant for success is not properties, not assets, but rather people.” But what kind of people? Successful ones obviously, especially those Rule calls the “serially successful.” So what do they have in common?
His association with several titans of the industry led him to ponder their similarities. Some of the names he mentioned include Seymour Schulich, Aldof, Lukas and Ian Lundin, Robert Friedland, Ross Beaty, Bob Quartermain and Clive Johnson.
“This isn’t to say they haven’t had failures on occasion,” Rule acknowledged. “Robert Friedland’s first effort, Galactic, was a galactic failure.”
But there’s a compound benefit to success. Those who achieve it “attract better people,” Rule said. “The people who are serially successful attract other serially successful people to them. And they attract better projects…. Similarly with the quest for capital.”
Among their traits, they’re “pathologically curious…. I think this makes them successful because they’re not willing to accept present dogma. I think because they’re curious they approach a problem from a whole bunch of points of view. It’s certainly true that many of the properties that become successful have had three or four approaches before the approach that made them successful.”
Not surprisingly, success-mongers turn out to be “really, really hard-working and focused.” And they’re “very smart,” although intelligence alone hardly guarantees success, he warned.
Additionally, the winners prove to be “amazingly tenacious. They carry a project in good times through bad times, carry it through the bad times back into good times.” Rule says they’ll commonly remark, “Yup, on that deal I worked seven years to be an overnight success.”
And stereotypes of domineering fat cats notwithstanding, “another thing I found out is these people turn out to be extremely nice,” Rule maintained. “They are, in my experience, genuinely happy that they delivered value to their employees and shareholders…. They want to build a mine. They want to employ local people. They want their shareholders to do well.”
As for their own stock, “They buy once and they sell once.” They might sell options from time to time, but they don’t cash out until their involvement in a project finishes, Rule said.
“Sadly,” the 60-something concluded, “they’re all my age…. The challenge is to find the next generation of the serially successful people.”
Echoing those comments, another well-connected industry insider believes the replacements might already be making their presence known. Mining headhunter Andrew Pollard of the Mining Recruitment Group presented six such prospects, three each on two panel discussions. One showcased a 35-and-under power trio while the other presented a threesome slightly older and commensurately closer to serial success status.
But isn’t this definition of success overly materialist? Surely life has loftier goals than ardent ambition, the lust for lucre, the mania for moolah. That was another point stressed most emphatically by Zimtu’s Dave Hodge.
“It’s not about the money!” he thundered to the four corners of the convention hall. “It’s about the bragging rights!”