Lesson Learned- Job Skills Required: Humility. Job Skills Preferred: Boxing Skills
In the Fall of 2014, I took over the role of Chief Executive Officer of Golden Predator Mining Corp. The company was broke and in debt $4mm. With a $1mm cash payment looming on the horizon, due in March 2016, I sat down to work out the debt, come up with a plan and get things in order. The end result to save the company was first, I work for free until the company is financially healthy, and second, we would complete a bulk sample of a high grade gold project as the first step to rebuild the company.
And off we went (see other story). The bulk sample was planned for February 2016 and efforts were underway to raise some money in 2015 to keep the wolves at bay thanks to our personal funds and a fund manager in Toronto, Canada who strangely believed in our plan. The story of the bulk sample is worthy of a separate piece and truly spoke to ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit, combined with hard work in harsh conditions, and it worked.
Before we could start the 2016 program, I had to get the company back to zero from a negative balance, plan, permit the bulk sample program and attend to some basic corporate work. One of the pieces of the basic corporate work was to plan the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of shareholders in 2015. This would be my first AGM, it’s generally a pretty predictable process with notice given and a meeting held to vote in the Directors and any other business as needed. It is an annual requirement of public companies and in small companies like Golden Predator, it’s usually uneventful. Not this time.
A few days before the AGM, I received notice from our largest shareholder that they were proposing a new slate of Directors, all named in the letter, and would be presenting this for a vote at the AGM. This is completely legal and as a public company the shareholders own the company and have the right to accept, reject or offer alternate Directors. In discussions with the shareholder following this letter, they were clear on their issue, we were being replaced.
Their way of achieving this was to replace the entire Board and management at the AGM. So, months into my new job and first stint as a CEO, I was to be fired (a first for me) along with the entire Board. It is a humbling experience realizing you are about to be fired. But then maybe there was a reason. It couldn’t be my work with the First Nations in Canada, as I had developed a very good and respectful relationship. It couldn’t be that I was a poor manager as I had managed to turn the finances around already. It couldn’t be that I was a poor communicator or planner as I had implemented work in both key areas. So, what was it?
As the AGM was approaching, Director Dennis Fentie called me at about 7 AM concerned about the vote and our response. The shareholders held enough shares to win the vote and we were gone; this was a fact. Dennis, the former Premier of the Yukon, was one of the sharpest people I have ever met. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him, he was strategic and wise and over the years, he was a mentor of mine. When things would get difficult years later (and they did get much more difficult), I would call Dennis and tell him I was tired of the fight with bureaucrats, tired of a jurisdiction that was full of bureaucrats not really supportive of mining, no matter what political party rules. He would coach me through challenges and often would ask me to treat the challenge as a boxing match. “Don’t think of the whole match”, he would say, “can you do another round? It’s just 3 minutes. Do you have 3 minutes?”.
“Yes”, I would always say, “I have 3 minutes”. And off I would go until my next call to Dennis where I would get urged on for another 3 minute round.
Anyway, Dennis called me that day and told me he had never been fired in his life and did not want to start now. Could we quit, he asked. Having never been fired either I understood where he was coming from. I asked him to leave it with me for the day and I will look into it. At first glance I didn’t see any reason why we could not simply quit before the (AGM and give the shareholder the reins to the company, which they seemed to want).
A quick call to our lawyer and then the Board and management, we came up with the plan, noting our lawyer said this had not been done before (to her knowledge) and later stating this case should be studied in business school. The plan – we all resign and disclose our resignation, in a press release as required, the day of the AGM, prior to the meeting. This would allow the shareholder to take controlas they indicated they planned to do. The only problem with our plan was one Director was on his annual moose hunt. I called his wife who said he was usually gone 3 days, but it was now day 10 and she did not know when he would be home or when to expect him. So, the rest of the Board and all management resigned, the news went out and we did not attend the AGM, only our lawyer who chaired the meeting. I also called the First Nation governments where we worked to let them know we all resigned due to the take over of the Board. Skilled in the complex world of land claims and other negotiations, they understood our situation.
It seems we caught the shareholder’s lawyer off guard at the AGM. When we and did not show up at the AGM, their lawyer asked for a two week deferral to go back to their client. Discussions were held and the shareholder pulled their proposed slate of new Directors, sold their stock to us and left the company.
Remember what I said about Dennis, he had this all figured out, he was steps ahead of me. He didn’t even tell me until later that he never believed they wanted the company. He was simply forcing their hand. Smart huh?
We were left to put the company back together. Not a simple task since everyone resigned… except for that one Director who called me following his moose hunt. He was now solely running the company and through him we reappointed Directors and management. We finished our plans for the bulk sample, and I had survived my first AGM and still had a job, a job that would get quite difficult and challenging, but very rewarding.
The representative from the First Nation sent me a note when we had everything put back together, it was a simple two word email: “Well played”. Smarter than me again.
At our first Board meeting, once rebuilt, I asked about the moose hunt. The Director on the hunt said this was the only time he was out for that long. We started thanking the moose, at our meetings, for saving the company. We would mark the anniversary at our AGM when we appointed Directors. When we started the Yukon Mint® it was only appropriate and respectful to the moose (Keda in Dene) to honour him on our first gold coin.