The triumphant ascent of Ian Ball, Rob McEwen’s prodigy

Ian Ball is a rising Bay Street star

The Prodigy, Ian Ball

Ian Ball, who is 38 years old, is one of the youngest CEOs in the mining industry. He has been Rob McEwen’s protégé for a long time. Abitibi Royalties is run by Ian, and its market cap is about $230 million. Since he graduated from college in 2004, when he started working in McEwen’s orbit, Ian’s career has taken off like a rocket.

First, he looked for opportunities for McEwen Capital. Then, he took on operational roles at different holdings. He was President of McEwen Mining by the time he was 31. Ian is a master at networking. He is both a go-getter and a go-giver. He’s like Tracy Britt Cool made of gold.

Early on, Ian had a lot of big responsibilities. He had to deal with big investors, raise a lot of money, and give advice on big mergers and acquisitions. Due to McEwen’s status, he was able to learn from people like Seymour Schulich, Gene McBurney, and Charles Baillie on Bay Street. In the beginning, McEwen Capital grew at a rate of 80%.

How did Ian get to work for McEwen? He met him by chance, and from then on, he was always after him. He finally gave him his resume after waiting outside a hotel for three hours. Ian Ball was not academically inclined initially. So, that might explain why he went to Ryerson University, if I may say so. But maybe that was a smart move, since he graduated first out of more than 1,200 people in his class.

Ian thought that running McEwen Mining meant putting out too many fires, so in 2014 he was brave enough to call Abitibi’s CEO at the time, Glenn Mullan, and ask for his job. The idea was that Ian could help with finances and Glenn could help with geology.

Surprisingly, Glenn took the job and became Chairman. This bold move really impresses me. Back then, the company had a few assets, $40,000 in the bank, and $600,000 in debts. So far, Ian’s work has made a big difference, and the stock price has gone up by more than four times. Ian has a simple goal for Abitibi: “to become the best gold company” (measured by ROI). This probably means better than McEwen Mining.

Ian Ball has said that he has watched gold mining and thought about it since he was five years old. But, strangely, Warren Buffett is his hero. Some of the things he does that remind him of Buffett are keeping his number of shares low and investing his own money. Also, pay attention to what you’re doing. He thinks that the best gold companies are driven by having One Great Mine. Ian is now focusing on the royalty business model, which he says is easier and better.

Abitibi Royalties has the fewest shares outstanding of any mining company in the world that is worth more than $100 million on the stock market. Bringing basic rationality to how capital is used in mining is a good idea. So Ian Ball could once again be the most popular guy on campus. Rob McEwen also had a background in investing before he started mining and made a lot of money. Ian owns about $5 million worth of Abitibi stock right now, and he uses all of his pay after taxes to buy more shares.

I don’t know what to say about the stock. When I read the Canadian Value Stocks blog, which said that Ian Ball was an unusual thinker, it made me think of him. I once considered a strategy called Iconoclastic Management at Any Price (iMAP). With this strategy, not only would Buffett have been found, but also Enron and Valeant. I still don’t think this is a bad plan. Ian is definitely talented and breaks with tradition. He has also said he wants to be Prime Minister of Canada.

Now, this wouldn’t be a real OPM Wire article if I didn’t add some controversy. So, here is a 5-year chart that compares McEwen Mining to Abitibi Royalties. (It’s clear that McEwen backs both companies, and Ian Ball, who was President of McEwen Mining before joining Abitibi, might not be completely blameless for the way things turned out for McEwen Mining. I’ll let them settle it for themselves.)

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