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Kinross CEO Tye Burt (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Kinross CEO Tye Burt (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail/Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

The Lunch

Kinross CEO Tye Burt: Staking his claim, and his reputation Add to ...

Ernest Hemingway would not approve.

In the 1920s, Café de Flore and Café des Deux Magots on Paris’s Left Bank were alive with great American writers: Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder. Hemingway’s first books were published in Paris and it is said he wrote part of A Moveable Feast in Café de Flore, “bent over his notebook, writing slowly as if he weighed every word, cutting his sentences sharply,” according to Sara Mayfield, author of Exiles in Paradise.

Some 90 years later, on a cold, grey Friday in January, Flore is full of tourists, a few smartly dressed Parisians taking a break from St.-Germain-des-Prés shopping excursions, and one wealthy Canadian businessman – Tye Winston Burt, CEO of Toronto’s Kinross Gold , the world’s fifth-largest gold company, with a market value of almost $19-billion.

We sit upstairs, where it is less frenetic and where Mr. Burt can speak about his three passions – Hemingway, sailing, gold – without having to raise his voice. With his close-cropped hair, trim physique and crisp light-grey suit, Mr. Burt, 53, could be a retired colonel. But today it is his love of Hemingway that has brought us to Flore.

“I have a bit of history here,” he says, while ordering typical Flore fare – Welsh rarebit, a green salad and a single glass of house Chablis. “In 2000, I convinced a gang of friends to do a Hemingway pilgrimage. We toured all the Hemingway haunts that we could find – Café de Flore, the Hemingway bar at the Ritz and les Deux Magots. Then we went to Pamplona and ran with the bulls. The Sun Also Rises was our guidebook.”

He did a similar trip with his son Andrew, then 17, two years ago: “We did the bull run together. I was coaching him on what to do and Andrew said ‘I don’t have to run faster than all those guys, I just gotta run faster than you.’”

Mr. Burt’s other literary loves include Robbie Burns, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, John Irving and George MacDonald Fraser. But a few writers from the non-fiction world have also influenced him heavily, notably Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It.

The book explains why many African and some Asian countries, in spite of their vast commodities wealth and endless foreign-aid injections, can’t break out of grinding poverty. Why does Mr. Burt care? Because Kinross’s bet-the-ranch, $7.7-billion (U.S.) purchase last year of Vancouver’s Red Back Mining made Kinross the biggest foreign investor in Mauritania, and is about to make it one of the Western Saharan country’s biggest employers. Kinross bought Red Back largely for the potentially mammoth Tasiast gold development, whose construction phase will employ about 3,500 workers when it starts next year and whose mining phase will directly employ 2,500.
 

Kinross’s investors may not like what he has in mind, which is to spread Tasiast’s wealth beyond just the local elite and Kinross’s non-African shareholders, minimize the environmental footprint and leave behind something more useful than a gigantic hole in the ground. “I want to make Mauritania an illustration of what responsible development of natural resources can do,” he says.

While no boss of any mining company can claim to run a “sustainable” operation – mining by definition is destructive and metals are not renewable – Mr. Burt says his goal is to envelop the project in the company’s corporate responsibility goals. In a word, that means “responsible” mining.

Kinross started the process with a bang by announcing a partnership with Montreal’s École Polytechnique, the Mauritanian government and the World Bank to launch a mining school in Nouakchott, the capital. Kinross is donating $10-million to the school, which will train geologists, engineers and technicians. “Mauritania has only three million people and only one university, so this will make a big impact,” he says. “The government was ecstatic about it.”

When Tasiast coughs up its last ounce in about 20 years, Kinross intends to leave behind an educated work force, roads, power generation and clean water systems that can be redeployed for new industries.

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