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Jim Flaherty, Oleg Deripaska and Maureen Sabia (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Jim Flaherty, Oleg Deripaska and Maureen Sabia (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Interviews

The Lunch: The tastiest of 2011 Add to ...

They dined, they drank. They explained, sermonized and equivocated. They recited obscure quotes from old football coaches. They picked away at Cobb salads.

They opened up and, sometimes, they closed down and tried to avoid answering our tough questions.

The 50 men and women who sat down for The Lunch with Report on Business in 2011 included some of the biggest power brokers in Canada and the world. Over tuna tartare, spicy Korean noodles and, on occasion, Tim Horton’s sandwiches, our journalists talked with billionaires and chief executives, financiers and a former prime minister. We ate with two of the world’s wealthiest men, and with women who have smashed the glass ceiling in a variety of fields

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(Browse the Lunch archives here)

Herewith, some of the highlights:

CONFESSIONS

“If you actually look at our track record over 30 years, you will see that inevitably when we make bold initiatives, sometimes the world melts down completely.”

– Marketing executive Miles Nadal, head of MDC Partners Inc., sums up his checkered history of acquisitions.

“You go to the goddamned tree lot. Invariably, it'll be raining, and kind of cold. You've got to pull one out, and hold it, and she's got to look at it from all sides, you get needles on you, and then all of a sudden you realize your hands are all sticky.”

– Hank Ketcham, the top executive at West Fraser Timber, admits that he put up an artificial Christmas tree in his home. But the man has his reasons.

“I actually do. But like a lot of consumers, I had no idea before we did this investigation about the higher costs associated with them.”

– Competition Commissioner Melanie Aitken, who has been at war with Visa and MasterCard over the cost and conditions imposed on merchants who accept high-end credit cards, confesses that she has one of those fancy cards in her wallet. But, she added, she never uses it at smaller retailers.

“That's a nightmare. It's unbelievable.”

– Lukas Lundin dumps on “Symterra,” the name devised by consultants for his new mining company, to be formed by the merger of Lundin Mining Corp. and Inmet Mining Corp. Fortunately for those who dislike meaningless corporate monikers – but unfortunately for Mr. Lundin – Symterra was stillborn, as the Lundin-Inmet deal fell apart.

AN OLIGARCH AT HOME

One of the hardest-to-land interviews was with Oleg Deripaska, the industrialist who ranks 36th on the Forbes list of billionaires. But Globe writer Eric Reguly, with much persistence, finally got the Russian businessman to agree. Here is how he described the scene:

MOSCOW – Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire who is said to be Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's favourite industrialist, has gone unshaven for at least three days. He is in grey training pants, a white T-shirt and a dark blue fleece. His nine-year-old son Peter and the family's Labrador retriever, Leo, scurry about. It is 10:30 at night and Mr. Deripaska is relaxed – that is, as relaxed as anyone with 240,000 employees, an empire that nearly collapsed two years ago and a frisky dog trying to drag the table cloth (and all the plates with it) onto the floor can be.

We are in the Deripaska family chalet about 20 kilometres outside of Moscow. A small ski hill next to the chalet is floodlit, exposing a few of the security guards who are an eternal presence in his life. Mr. Deripaska flops onto one of the cushy, low-slung chairs, orders tea from the kitchen staff and invites me to call him Oleg.

The bookshelves are laden with classic Russian novels and books on modern Japanese design – Mr. Deripaska loves Tokyo. Peter, who speaks English with a British accent (he and his sister share a British nanny), is showing us how Leo can dance on his hind legs. His father laughs. “Very intelligent dogs, Labradors,” he says.

The modern chalet is big but not ostentatious. “I am not in Aspen, I live in Moscow,” he says in an English that has improved markedly since I last interviewed him in his Moscow office three years ago.

Since then, the oligarch has fought for his survival. The financial crisis shredded the value of his holdings, a collection of 100 companies built over just a dozen years as he rose from metals broker to industrial baron. And he might well have lost it all in 2008 if not for his close ties to the Kremlin.

Exactly how Mr. Deripaska managed to save Rusal – the aluminum company that was the main source of his wealth – and other investments, is still a matter of debate. Certainly he won a standoff with foreign creditors, but some think he would be dead and buried without a little help from his political friends, who evidently had no desire to see his investments seized by non-Russians. When his fortunes turned desperate in the bleakest months of the crisis, Mr. Deripaska's long-standing record of plowing his fortunes back into Russia, no doubt helped his cause; some of his fellow oligarchs chose instead to acquire overseas trophy assets like American and British sports teams.

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