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Lukas Lundin (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Lukas Lundin (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

The Lunch

Lukas Lundin looks to the summit of base metals Add to ...

Lukas Lundin has a problem with names. Some he forgets, others he simply doesn't like.

Take Symterra, for instance, the name of the new senior base metals company he intends to create by merging his Lundin Mining Corp. with Inmet Mining Corp.

"That's a nightmare," Mr. Lundin says of the new title. "It's unbelievable."

For starters, Symterra is hard to pronounce, says the 52-year-old Swedish-born mining mogul, who oversees a number of resource companies with a wide range of names, including some based on his surname.

Symterra, which he says some "fancy" consultant came up with after combining the terms "symmetry" for alignment and "terra" for the earth, was definitely not his choice. He had some suggestions, including combining the names to make "Lunmet," but was told that sounded too much like "loonie."

"Finally, I threw my hands up in the air," he says, repeating the gesture over lunch, which is a plate of Arctic char with fresh vegetables and a glass of red wine at Il Giardino, a cozy Italian restaurant in downtown Vancouver. "I guess we'll get used to it … A name is just a name."

Mr. Lundin is a regular at this lunch spot, which is evident in the hearty handshake he receives from the restaurateur as he makes the customer rounds on a recent rainy Friday afternoon. The well-known executive introduces his note-taking lunch partner, but it's not until after the host has left the table that Mr. Lundin remembers his name. "Umberto!" he blurts out. That's Umberto Menghi, the Canadian celebrity chef.

Mr. Lundin can be forgiven for being a little fuzzy on names right now. Top of mind for him is getting shareholders to approve his proposed Lundin-Inmet merger at votes scheduled for next month. While the mining marriage is being cheered as a "merger of equals," there is always a threat that a rival offer could come along and break up the deal. Mr. Lundin has been across the country recently talking up the merits of the deal, which he says will create a much-needed Canadian base metals giant.

It's probably why the normally reclusive mining executive has agreed to have lunch today. He has something to sell.

The stakes are high, considering the last merger Lundin tried, with HudBay Minerals in 2008, fell through. Back then, Lundin was strapped for cash and HudBay shareholders revolted against the structure of the deal, which would have diluted their stock. The agreement was eventually cancelled.

This deal is much different, says Mr. Lundin, and his company is in much better financial shape, thanks in large part to the commodities comeback.

The way he sees it, everything worked out as it should. "This deal I've done comes from a position of strength," he says.

His goal now, as non-executive chairman of the new copper-focused company, is to help it grow from a market capitalization of $15-billion from about $9-billion "in a short time." Once that happens, he envisions the day when Symterra is bought, or merges with another big player. (BMO Nesbitt Burns analysts speculated this week that Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., the world's largest publicly traded copper company, could be interested in buying Symterra postmerger.)

For Mr. Lundin, it's all part of the build, buy and sell cycle that motivates him. "I love the deal and I love the business. It's fun," says the self-described "deal junkie."

The Inmet-Lundin merger is the second sizable deal Mr. Lundin has been behind in the past six months. Last August another one of his companies, Red Back Mining Inc., was sold to Kinross Gold Corp. for $7.1-billion (U.S.) That acquisition was cooked up between Mr. Lundin and Kinross chief executive officer Tye Burt on a ski trip in British Columbia. While investment bankers have been credited for making the deal happen, Mr. Lundin doesn't hand over the praise so easily. "They get all the fees … I don't know what they do," he says, laughing.

Mr. Lundin's deal-hunting nature comes from his late father, Adolf, founder of resource conglomerate The Lundin Group of Companies. Today, Mr. Lundin, the oldest of four children, runs the mining side of the empire from Vancouver, while his younger brother Ian operates the energy side from Geneva, where their mother and two younger sisters also live.

The family owns other small businesses on the side, including an auction house in Sweden and a hotel near Geneva. Not everything they touch has been a success, though. Mr. Lundin points to a Swiss-based airline the family bought about a decade ago that went bankrupt after its first flight to New York. Since then, he has decided to stick to the resource business. "I am not smart enough to know anything else," he says with a laugh.

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