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Peter Munk, chairman of Barrick Gold Corp, the world's largest gold producer, speaks during the annual general meeting of shareholders in Toronto April 28, 2010. (MIKE CASSESE)
Peter Munk, chairman of Barrick Gold Corp, the world's largest gold producer, speaks during the annual general meeting of shareholders in Toronto April 28, 2010. (MIKE CASSESE)

Value: John Warrillow

Secret to building company is time Add to ...

I had a friend in university who would always be the last one to leave a party.

When I asked him about his curious habit, he explained it was the best strategy for finding a date — with many of the women pairing off and departing earlier, the ones who stuck around were that much more motivated to try to meet someone.

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While I cannot personally verify the efficacy of his strategy, in a business context there is something to be said for just being around longer than anyone else.

Eighty-three-year-old Peter Munk started Barrick Gold 27 years ago, and according to his most recent quarterly report to shareholders, the company is now making $10 million a day. It’s tempting to think of Mr. Munk as having always been successful, but as Globe and Mail reporter Michael Posner wrote earlier this month, Mr. Munk has had a roller-coaster ride: He’s been falsely accused of trading on inside knowledge, he’s had 90 per cent of his South Seas holdings erased as a result of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, and he fought a 10-year legal battle with the Egyptians over a planned luxury resort that fell through – apparently due to political pressure.

You might argue that at least part of Mr. Munk’s success can be chalked up to being around longer than most.

I think time can be the great equalizer. The committed athlete who puts in more time than her naturally gifted competitor can make up for weaker skills and eventually surpass her lazier rival. The scientist – Thomas Edison comes to mind – who keeps at it longer than his peers will be rewarded over time with more groundbreaking inventions.

Any eight-year-old knows that if you guide the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass, aiming at a single point, for long enough, you can create enough energy to burn paper. Neither the sun nor the magnifying glass has the energy on its own — it is only through the magic of time that a reaction starts to take hold.

And that is the danger for many entrepreneurs who are keen to see immediate results. Many of us have a bad case of “shiny ball syndrome” (present company included), so when our idea doesn’t immediately show results, we quickly change strategies — or even businesses — looking for the elusive “overnight success.” Perhaps time, applied against a single idea, was all we needed.

Some of the best-known overnight success stories had a steeper fall off the cliff they climbed so quickly. Anyone remember Webvan (RIP: 1999 to 2001), Pets.com (RIP: 1998 to 2000), GovWorks (RIP: 1999 to 2000) or Zoom Airlines (RIP: 2002 to 2008)?

The secret to building a valuable business might be less about strategy, sales or marketing, and more about staying at the party long enough to allow time to work its magic.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. He writes a blog about building a valuable – sellable – company. He is the author of Built To Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, which will be released in April.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnWarrillow

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