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Ian Telfer: the underdog mining titan on giving back

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If you are not active in Canada’s mining and resource industry, you may have never heard of Ian Telfer. Although you may not recognize his name, you probably have heard of the man who is behind the second largest donation to a university business school in Canadian history.

University of Ottawa’s business school, the Telfer School of Management, is named after Ian Telfer.  Telfer is an alumni of the school and in 2007 donated an unprecedented $25 million dollars to the school, funds that have helped drive the Telfer School of Management into the top ranks of the country’s business programs.

The question is, how does one afford to make such a generous donation?

Ask Ian Telfer and he will give you a quick-witted response about opportunism.  However, his success story is much more nuanced than simply taking advantage of the right opportunity at the right time.

Ian Telfer’s business story was unremarkable until 2001 when his careful and diligent monitoring of the gold market paid off in a big way. Sensing a market turnaround for gold, Telfer and a partner purchased Wheaton River Minerals, a junior company with a dormant mine and $20 million in capital.

Their educated hunch that the price of gold — which was sitting at roughly $300 an ounce when they acquired Wheaton River — would increase paid off. After acquiring Wheaton River, Telfer as its CEO led in a quick succession of mergers and takeovers, all the while taking advantage of a swiftly increasing price of gold.  

As a final coup, in 2005 Wheaton River merged with Goldcorp Inc., with Telfer becoming Goldcorp’s CEO.  Outside of Goldcorp, Telfer has also helmed other successful mining companies, like TVX Gold, Silver Wheaton, Terrane Minerals and Uranium One.  In fact, his record of success with these companies was so remarkable that during their peak performance, these companies were worth a combined market capitalization of more than $50 billion.

The success Telfer experienced came as shock to the man who as a child migrated to Canada with his family from England in search of opportunity. From his own account, he was never an overly ambitious student, opting to socialize with friends over university lecture halls.  

However, as many of his colleagues will attest, Ian Telfer excels in the art of negotiation. A natural charmer, Telfer is also skilled in identifying and quickly taking advantage of strategic acquisitions, something that has propelled him in his mining career.

Today, Telfer is the Chairman of the Board for Goldcorp, a Canadian gold producer that now employs roughly 18,000 people around the globe. Telfer still marvels at his relatively late life success and laughs at how he once worried that his initial gold investment was a bad idea.

While he has made most of his fortune in the last 15 years, it hasn’t stopped the Canadian executive from sharing his wealth through a variety of philanthropic endeavors.

As highlighted, his most noteworthy philanthropic cause and an effort that is close to his heart is the Telfer School of Management. In addition to the $25 million that Telfer donated to the school in 2007, last year Telfer donated another $2 million to the Telfer School of Management. Additionally, at one point Telfer was leading a program that selected a University of Ottawa MBA grad every year to become his personal apprentice at Goldcorp.

Telfer’s ties to his alma mater, needless to say, run deep.

“The reason I am so proud to support the School of Management at the University of Ottawa is because I have experienced firsthand the positive impact the School can have on the lives of its alumni. Over 30 years ago the School of Management made an investment in me ─ now it’s my turn to return the favour and make an investment in the School,” Telfer said in an interview five years after giving his historic $25 million dollar donation.

Telfer’s philanthropy extends past the halls of academia and spans a number of organizations and charitable causes. One of those is the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation of British Columbia. Telfer and his wife, Nancy Burke, are avid supporters of the hospital’s initiatives; in fact, Nancy Burke is the Honorary Director of the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation.

In a joint interview of Burke and Telfer from last year, the philanthropic couple credited their generosity to the abundance of opportunity Canada has afforded them.

“One of the reasons we donate is that we’ve been very fortunate to be in a position that we are able to donate and help out a little bit,” Telfer told BC Business.  “The country, the province, the community have been very good to us, so we feel it’s all part of the process to give something back.”

Later this year, Ian Telfer will be inducted into the the Business Laureates of British Columbia (BLBC) Hall of Fame for his business accomplishment and philanthropic endeavors in the province and country. The 11th annual awards celebration will honour Telfer’s unique vision, his proven leadership and integrity, as well as his lasting legacy in Canada.

From supporting wine festivals to music schools, the Telfer name has become synonymous with philanthropic endeavors, a legacy Telfer can be extremely proud, even if it isn’t what he expected.  

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