For a businessperson involved in the mining sector, attending a Mines and Money conference is like going on pilgrimage to the Vatican, Mecca, Jerusalem or Varanasi.
The journey begins with a longing desire to see and experience something sacred and holy. Next, preparations are made for the journey. Suits are packed, along with presentations and plenty of business cards. Upon arrival, the pilgrim joins a large group of devotees and listens to the voices of the enlightened few.
The believers are bound by a shared set of beliefs. At Mines and Money, those beliefs can be summed up into one sentence: “What lies beneath the ground holds untold riches.”
Mines and Money
In a nutshell, the event brings together mining companies, investors, brokers and other third parties so that they all share information, exchange ideas and – hopefully – do business.
I decided to attend the December 2013 conference in London. The event took place in the fashionable Islington district.
For one, a friend and former client had a stand there. His was one of the gold mining companies present. I wanted to catch up with him and his team on the progress of the company. Secondly, some of the most prominent figures in the business were in attendance and it was a good opportunity to discuss current trends in global mining. Amongst other things, it had been a challenging time for the sector as a whole. Many businesses had difficulty accessing capital.
On the 2nd day of the conference, whilst taking a little break, I accidentally bumped into an acquaintance of mine by a coffee table. This older gentleman, almost twice my age, happened to be one of the shareholders of the group that owns the Mines and Money conference brand. We had a brief chat and agreed to meet up the following day and go for lunch as it had been a while since we last saw one another.
The next day when I arrived at the pre-agreed meeting point I found my friend holding two sandwiches in his hand.
Odd. Aren’t we going out?
“Come, no time to eat out. Let’s go listen to the speakers,” he said.
Not interested. The last thing I wanted to do was to listen to more speakers. I had listened to a few already and preferred to mingle with the people on the floor who manned the stands. They included geologists, CFOs, business development executives and even CEOs. “Look, I’m not so keen on listening to more speakers. Why don’t we meet up afterwards?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. The most successful mining entrepreneur of our time is speaking. You want to listen to him.”
Interesting. I reconsidered.
“And he’s a born entertainer.”
Done. “Let’s go.”
We set off in the direction of the large designated room where the speakers took turns to pontificate. My friend manoeuvred his way to the front row, asked a random stranger to move down one seat and the two of us ended up sitting next to one another. We ate our sandwiches and listened to the talk.
And then, finally, the speaker I was persuaded to listen to came on stage. Let’s call him Mr. Mining (or Mr. M).
Mr. M had a remarkable background. Worthy of a Hollywood film. I wouldn’t be surprised if a movie about him was made in the near future. Certainly an entertaining 2 hours.
Though a billionaire who had achieved phenomenal success in the mining industry, Mr. M was unlike most other mining financiers or mining entrepreneurs I’d come across in the past. Sure, it wasn’t a sector I knew a great deal about and I didn’t know hundreds of people in the business but I knew enough to know that Mr. M. was unique.
If a film about him were made then footage from his early years would show: Mr. M. getting arrested for drug possession (a seriously large amount); travelling across India as a hippie and following a renowned Hindu guru in search of enlightenment; and, in his college years, befriending one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and a Silicon Valley deity.
The moment Mr. M stepped on stage I understood what the gentleman next to me meant when he earlier used the words “born entertainer”. Mr. M captivated the crowd with such ease. He was an artist.
If you’re smart and hungry you’ll do well in business. But if, on top of that, you can also charm and entertain people then you can do magic. And he sure did.
Mr. M. completed some of the greatest mining deals. One of his earlier successes included a deal in Alaska that supposedly cost investors under 10 million dollars to launch and was later sold for over 500 million. He eventually went on to do bigger deals including a really big one in Mongolia. It was at the time the country’s most significant financial endeavour and a deal reporters around the world still write about to this day.
Mr. M spoke about the future of mining investment and development; the region of focus for the coming decade (i.e. Africa); and about advances in mining technology which would revolutionise the process of resource extraction.
Both good and bad things have been written about the man. One thing was for sure, he would be a very interesting person to chat with.
I need to meet him.
As tended to happen at conferences like these, by the time Mr. M. finished talking and stepped down from the stage there were a herd of reporters, mining company execs and a plethora of other individuals tripping over themselves at the opportunity to speak to him.
It wasn’t the right time to approach him. Even if I got the chance to speak to him I would not have had enough time to engage in meaningful discussion. Besides, the person behind me would have been breathing down my neck to get his or her turn.
On conferences and their worth
Attending conferences can be a great way to connect with people. New relationships begin and existing ones are strengthened. Yet conferences can also turn into a big waste of time and money. Especially given that most of the talks, lectures, speeches and presentation material are made available online right after in video format or otherwise. And let’s not forget all the silly small talk that comes with attending conference.
What I find gives you the greatest return (personal, social and business) are the unscripted things that happen during such conventions. They tend to occur when you author the script and dare.
Think about it, when you follow the popular conference script then the following happens: you arrive to the venue; walk from one stall to the next; shake hands, smile and exchange a few lines with the stall attendant(s); attend a lecture or two; head off for a group lunch; listen to some more lectures; visit some more stalls; and go home. Might as well watch videos of the talks at a later date from the comfort of your home.
Therefore, in the interest of time – a much more valuable commodity than gold – if one chooses to attend a conference then it’s essential to make it worthwhile. The key, I believe, is to take one or more people away from the script. Then the setting becomes more conducive to productive engagement.
Getting Mr. M’s attention
Instead of waiting in line to speak to Mr. M, I sent him a 3-sentence e-mail later that evening. A man like him is bombarded with e-mails so a dissertation was out of the question.
Short and simple.
In the first sentence, I introduced myself and explained what I did. In the second, I mentioned (without naming) some of the large families I advised and their rough net worth. In the third, I touched on an idea I wanted to discuss with him. An idea which would of course make him money – after all, that is what usually gets people’s attention, especially those in the business of making lots of it.
The following morning
At approximately, half past 6 in the morning Mr. M. replied to my e-mail. He said:
If you can brush your teeth in a hurry then join me on our private jet to France. We’re flying from Farnborough at 8am, returning to London around 6pm. We can discuss.