Pierre Lassonde still hasn't unpacked. He's been back in Toronto since August after a year-long "sabbatical" in the south of France, but his office is still littered with boxes.
The legendary mining entrepreneur and chairman of the reborn royalty resource firm Franco-Nevada Corp. grabs a picture frame swaddled in bubble wrap and starts tearing it off to reveal a photograph taken with Tiger Woods at a charity golf event.
"I had Tiger absolutely roaring," he grins at the picture. "We had a great time. It was superb."
Mr. Lassonde, it seems, brings his oversized personality wherever he goes, and today he'll be at University of Toronto, where he'll be writing an oversized cheque for $5-million.
The funds will go toward The Innovation Centre for the Canadian Mining Industry, a new facility that will be built at U of T's Lassonde Institute for Engineering Geoscience.
The $5-million donation will be added to $11-million in infrastructure funding offered by the federal and Ontario governments as well as $4-million from Vancouver miner Goldcorp Inc.
Mr. Lassonde hopes the new $20-million centre will help cement Canada's standing in the global mining industry.
"Our goal is to have it in the top-five mineral institutes in the world," he says.
In addition to new classrooms, labs and equipment, the money will be used to fund scholarships and hire top-notch engineering and geology professors.
"Mining is one of the very few things Canada does well. In so many other fields, the U.S. and Europe have so much more money to spend ... Because of Canada's [geographical]size, we are going to produce natural resources for another 100 years. So we might as well be the best at it, from an environmental standpoint, a safety standpoint and an economic standpoint," he says.
Mr. Lassonde made his fortune investing in the resource sector and as a co-founder of the original Franco-Nevada, which pioneered the practice of acquiring mining royalties that pay a percentage of a mine's revenue to the holder. Denver's Newmont Mining Corp. bought Franco in 2001 and Mr. Lassonde served as Newmont's president until the end of 2006.
In 2007, when Newmont spun off the bulk of its royalty holdings in the largest mining IPO in North American history, he was named chairman of the new Franco-Nevada.
An active philanthropist in education and the arts, Mr. Lassonde's support for U of T's mining school is not entirely without self-interest. He's concerned that high commodity prices have made the mining sector apathetic toward developing new techniques and technologies to improve exploration results and reduce mining costs.
"Thousand dollar [U.S. an ounce]gold, $3 [per pound]copper and $70 [a barrel]oil puts a wonderful sugar coating on everything," he warns.
Mr. Lassonde expects a well-endowed mining centre to develop new technologies that will improve exploration success in Canada.
A major discovery hasn't been made in Canada since the Voisey's Bay nickel and Ekati and Diavik diamond finds in the 1990s, he complains. Mining and metallurgical techniques have stagnated.
"We need to put more emphasis on research ... We can't count on commodity prices going up forever," he says.
A long-time bullion price cheerleader, Mr. Lassonde is surprisingly muted in his short-term outlook for gold. He expects the metal to hover between $950 and $1,000 an ounce for the next year.
He doesn't expect inflation to have a major effect on the gold price. Contradicting the rallying cry of so many gold bugs, he says that despite all the money being printed by governments to counter the global economic downturn, it won't be enough to offset the trillions of dollars of personal wealth that has been wiped out.
Besides, he says, with unemployment running at about 10 per cent in the United States, labour inflation is highly unlikely.
However, there is one factor that Mr. Lassonde believes could send the gold price skyrocketing: China.
The Chinese government has been adding to its gold reserves and now individual Chinese investors are starting to develop an interest in the precious metal.
Mr. Lassonde believes a gold "mania" could develop in China, similar to booms in the Chinese stock market and real estate.
"The liberalization of the gold market in China that we are seeing is likely to create what I would call a casino atmosphere in the gold market in China down the road. That could produce gold prices that are truly mind-boggling," he says.
Whatever the gold price, Mr. Lassonde, now 62, clearly enjoys building his legacy as a fervent supporter of higher education.
In addition to the millions he's given to U of T and several other Canadian universities, he's donated about $14-million to the University of Utah's Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center.
"Education is the best gift you can give," he explains. "It's the gift that keeps on giving."