Altruism does not, of course, fully explain the effort. Mr. Burt thinks corporate responsibility is an essential part of the value-creation process. Mining companies live and die on mining permits and shabby behaviour can delay or eliminate them. “There are plenty of examples where protesters have closed the gates and governments have shut down mines,” he says. “When a government thinks about issuing a permit, we want the community to say, ‘We want Kinross here.’”
Mr. Burt comes by his green inclinations honestly. Raised on a farm near Brooklin, Ont., north of Whitby, he is the son of a botany graduate. “My life was a biology lesson,” he says. “Every time we were out in a stream fishing or on a lake sailing, there was always a discussion of the world around us that translated into a passion for the outdoors, and a view that we have to tread lightly in the world we live in.”
The farm boy, however, couldn’t resist the distinctly unnatural world of corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions. After graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School, he joined Burns Fry (now part of BMO Nesbitt Burns). A decade later, in 1997, he landed at Deutsche Bank as managing director of the global metals and mining group. Next came Barrick Gold, where he was head of corporate development. In 2005, he lunged at the opportunity to run his own show and took over a messy company with regulatory problems – Kinross – that had been cobbled together through a string of acquisitions.
An investment banker at heart, Mr. Burt embarked on another round of acquisitions that would drive the company into the high-growth, though risky, gold hot spots in Russia and Latin America (the company has no mines in Canada). In 2007, he bought Bema Gold for $3.1-billion; a year later Aurelian Resources was snapped up for $1.2-billion.
Along the way, Kinross became Canada’s biggest corporate player in Russia, where its capital spending has reached $2.7-billion. In a speech in October, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cited Kinross as a model of successful foreign investment in his country.
The big move came in 2010. The Red Back purchase was a huge gamble not just because of its size and the location of its biggest project – Mauritania – but because many investors were skeptical about its potential. They thought the price tag was way too rich given the scant information about Tasiast’s gold reserves. Institutional Shareholder Services triggered a low-grade panic among Kinross executives when it urged its clients, who owned about 10 per cent of Kinross’s shares, to reject the deal.
Kinross nonetheless got its prize and Mr. Burt has not retreated from the “just trust me” message as the company gathers more information about Tasiast’s potential. At last count, the mine had “measured and indicated” resources of 9.3 million ounces. Kinross is poking holes into the ground at Tasiast to prove that the true number is much bigger.
The rumour in the industry is that the reserve number could easily land in the 20- to 40-million-ounce range. Mr. Burt won’t comment, other than to say “Some estimates have been conservative. Tasiast is one of the great ore bodies in the world.”
While shareholder anxiety builds about Tasiast’s true size – the shares have underperformed the market in the past year – Mr. Burt is deepening both his personal and corporate responsibility pledges. His alma mater, Ontario’s University of Guelph , is the object of his charitable affections. His family foundation recently donated $1-million (Canadian) to the school to fund a series of first-year lectures on service to the community and Kinross gave $1-million to fund a Guelph chair in environmental governance.