Brian Paes-Braga is a Vancouver financier and entrepreneur, known for his notable work in founding and developing the lithium resource company, Lithium X. The company raised roughly $50 million and just two years after going public was sold to NextView New Energy Lion Hong Kong Limited for $265 million in March 2018.
Today, Brian Paes-Braga serves as Principal, Head of Merchant Banking at SAF Group, a leading structured credit and merchant banking group which builds, invests, finances and advises high growth companies. He is also on the board of directors at Thunderbird Entertainment Group and DeepGreen Metals and an Advisory Council member of the International Crisis Group, as well as supports a range of charitable organizations through his Quiet Cove Foundation.
You’ve been a successful entrepreneur for a number of years and have worked in several industries outside of the resource sector. From your experience , what are the ingredients to successfully financing and building strong companies like Lithium X?
Brian Paes-Braga: I think it starts with people and who you hire and whether there is synergy among your team members. I know we had that at Lithium X. It’s also important to respect the share structure of the company, and that means being honest with your shareholders while you continue to raise capital. Luck plays a part and we certainly were lucky in terms of timing and lithium prices when the company went public.
On the subject of Lithium X, the company was sold just two years after going public and you managed to maximize shareholder return. Was that always the plan for Lithium X or did a buyer appear at the right time?
Brian Paes-Braga: I established this company based on the belief that we need to wean the world off fossil fuels. That was the mission of Lithium X. We were confident that the buyer, NextView New Energy, shared the same commitment to developing the lithium sector. True, the $50 million we raised to secure lithium-development projects paid off when we sold the company but that wasn’t our main objective.
You pitched business mentor and renowned Vancouver mining financier Frank Giustra on the idea of building a lithium company and you also attracted another top mining figure, Paul Matysek, who had previously served as CEO of Potash One and Lithium One. How did you manage to convince Giustra and Matysek to join the project?
Brian Paes-Braga: My background as an investment banker helping resource companies raise money for projects led me to believe that lithium had the right supply/demand outlook for getting into business. I did my research on the lithium sector and the demand for lithium-based batteries in China. I think that both Giustra and Matysek saw the potential in the lithium market and were equally excited about the project. Mentors have always been very important to me. Frank Giustra was someone I had looked up to from a very young age and I’ve learned a lot from him.
You are a believer in giving back to the community through your work with various charities and your private foundation, the Quiet Cove Foundation. Can you talk about why charitable giving is important to you?
Brian Paes-Braga: At the center of my work in the business world is the desire to remain philanthropically conscious. I have now travelled the world on various mission trips close to my heart, including working with Syrian refugees in Greece and building schools in Peru. I wanted to devote more time to philanthropy and projects I cared deeply for and that was the reason we created the Quiet Cove Foundation. It focuses on supporting innovative solutions for large scale social issues. We encourage charities to think big, take risks, and disrupt the status quo.
It takes hard work and perseverance to succeed in the mining industry. Glen McKay, the chairman of the board of directors and founder of leading explosives manufacturer, Newfoundland Hard-Rok Inc, has both these qualities, starting his career as a deckhand in the fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador before leading businesses in a range of industries, including finance, construction and, yes, mining.
“Motivation and determination are essential attributes of any successful entrepreneur,” Glen McKay explained in a recent interview. “These are attributes that can be unlocked only from inside a person, not by external influences. A desire to learn and cultivating the ability to be insightful are necessary in assessing business opportunities.”
Newfoundland Hard-Rok Inc.
In 1985, McKay became the Dupont Explosives distributor in Newfoundland and Labrador and used the Newfoundland Hard-Rok division of his company MRO Supplies Ltd. to operate the explosives business. In 1987 Newfoundland Hard-Rok Inc. was incorporated as a separate entity by McKay, who then sold part of it to two employees of MRO Supplies Ltd., Carl Foss and Keith Phelan, who were then looking after the explosives division of the company. The drilling, blasting and explosives company has grown since then. In 1994 Newfoundland Hard-Rok Inc. built an ANFO manufacturing plant near Corner Brook, NL and acquired a fleet of hard rock drilling rigs. In May of 2009, Newfoundland Hard-Rok Inc. commissioned its newly constructed, state of the art Bulk Emulsion explosives manufacturing facility west of Corner Brook. It is now the premier supplier of explosives and drilling blasting services in the region.
Newfoundland Hard-Rok Inc. formed wholly owned subsidiary Dyno Nobel Labrador Inc. in 2004, and wholly owned subsidiary Dyno Nobel Baffin Island Inc. in 2013, with McKay serving as the Chair of the Board of Directors of Newfoundland Hard-Rok Inc. and managing the company’s finances and administration.
Dyno Nobel Labrador Inc. was awarded the contract from Vale (formerly Voisey’s Bay Nickel Company) in 2005 to design, build and operate a bulk emulsion (blasting agent) manufacturing plant supplying the needs of the open pit mine at Voisey’s Bay. Recently, Dyno Nobel Labrador Inc. was awarded an additional second contract for the underground delivery of loading equipment and related services at the mine. Vale’s mine site is in Northern Labrador along the coast near the community of Nain. The mine primarily produces nickel ore with some copper and cobalt and is accessible via air and sea only.
As Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball explains, a five-year construction project at Voisey’s Bay will extend the mine’s life by 15 years. Once operational, Ball estimates the underground mine will create an additional 1,700 jobs both at the mine and at the Long Harbour, NL, processing plant. The mining operation in northeastern Labrador opened in 2005 and currently employs about 500 people, Canadian Press reported.
Dyno Nobel Baffin Island Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Newfoundland Hard-Rok Inc. and was formed in 2013 to service the Baffinland Iron Mines, Mary River Project. Dyno Nobel Baffin Island Inc. has been awarded a multi-year contract to supply explosives for the construction and mining phases. A state of the art modular emulsion manufacturing plant was constructed on site in 2014. The operations involve the manufacturing of bulk emulsion, loading, and firing the blast holes. The Mary River Mine is in the remote northern part of Baffin Island within the Arctic Circle. This remote cold location poses many challenges to shipping and logistics, equipment operation and working outdoors.
Cornerstone Capital Resources
But Dyno Nobel Labrador Inc was not Glen McKay’s first foray into the mining industry. In 1997, he co-founded Cornerstone Capital Resources Inc, a mineral exploration company best known for its Cascabel copper-gold project in Ecuador, which was acquired in 2011 during his tenure. While McKay was with Cornerstone, he served as president, chief executive officer and vice chair. He still owns shares in the company and keeps a close eye on its activities.
On July 13, 2018, Cornerstone released an update on the exploration program at its Cascabel copper-gold porphyry joint venture exploration project in northern Ecuador, in which the company has a 15% interest financed through to completion of a feasibility study. Cornerstone has several other projects in Ecuador and Chile.
“The Cascabel project increases in size with each round of drilling and an aggressive drilling campaign continues,” McKay posted on LinkedIn. “I think that they are probably 18-24 months away from a feasibility study, but I also expect that one of the majors will buy out the current owners (SolGold and Cornerstone) before then.”
SolGold owns the other 85% of Cascabel and is funding 100% of the exploration as the operator of the project. Cornerstone is spinning off its assets (except for its interest in Cascabel, shares of SolGold and the joint venture with the Ecuadorian state mining company) into a new company called Cornerstone Exploration, which will own several drill ready projects in Ecuador and Chile. Cornerstone will be re-named Cascabel Gold & Copper.
That’s not the end of McKay’s entrepreneurial resume. In 1987, he provided the capital for Apex Construction Specialties Inc, which grew to become the largest supplier of commercial construction products in Newfoundland and Labrador. McKay remained as a shareholder and board member until the company was sold in 2017.
In his 40 years of business experience, McKay has learned a lot about people. In his own businesses, he looked for self motivated, bright, hard-workers who had the ability to be a part of a team. The simple but effective premise is that if you really value your people, they in turn will increase the value of your business.
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