Rob McEwen: Mining magnate with a vision

February 6, 2012

By Gordon Pitts - Globe and Mail, Sat Feb 4, 2012

Rob McEwen, the near-billionaire nationalist, philanthropist, libertarian, gold-loving, regulation-hating metals magnate, is as steamed as the plate of tagliatelle pasta sitting in front of him.

“It’s the parentalness of government that pisses me off. Get out! We have to take risks on our own,” he says.

The 61-year-old is reacting to the roadblocks encountered in his new mining venture, the latest chapter in a colourful and wildly successful career highlighted by converting a struggling gold mine in Northern Ontario into a global colossus called Goldcorp. The mining tycoon is merging two junior companies to form what he hopes will be his next – perhaps last – big winner. But the regulatory and governance process has taken three months longer than expected, costing $6-million in legal and advisory fees.

… But while Mr. Paul sits on the political fringe, Mr. McEwen stands at the centre of Canadian public life, as a business leader whose vocation is one of the country’s oldest – making money from mines – and whose avocation is giving it away – $50-million so far, largely to fund research in regenerative medicine and stem cell applications.

He and wife Cheryl have joined other blue-chip titans in putting their family name on a research centre in the health care hub of downtown Toronto, and he gives to his alma mater, the York University business school, where fellow gold magnate Seymour Schulich has enlisted his support. He talks of some day donating 50 per cent of his wealth, as Warren Buffett advocates, but his perverse challenge is that he cannot give it away, carefully and strategically, as quickly as he makes it.

He has found that health care and mining have much in common, and he equates medical research with risky exploration. “It’s capital intensive, with low probability of success; it’s highly regulated and the people don’t talk to each other.”

Mr. McEwen was always imaginative in seeking out mining innovation, and he brings that same spirit to funding networks of scientists. He supports projects with a strong chance of reaching the clinical stage at an accelerated rate – and his dollars go to such fields as lung transplants, tracheal repopulation, heart-cell patches, and diabetes.

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