ABOVE BOARD

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Ge­orge Fink is a man who likes to go against the grain. “My whole life I’ve been con­trar­ian,” says the chair­man and CEO of Bon­terra En­ergy. “When ev­ery­one is sell­ing we tend to buy, and when ev­ery­one is buy­ing we tend to sell.” Fink might be con­trar­ian but he’s also highly ef­fec­tive, par­tic­u­larly in his role as chair­man. In fact, Fink is the chair­man not only of Bon­terra – a light oil-weighted com­pany that pro­duced ap­prox­i­mately 12,400 boe/d dur­ing the first six months of 2015 – but nat­u­ral gas pro­ducer Pine Cliff En­ergy too. De­spite a cli­mate where many ju­nior com­pa­nies are in dis­tress, Bon­terra and Pine Cliff are do­ing fine.

That’s due in no small part to Fink and the lead­er­ship he pro­vides for both com­pa­nies. Dur­ing a ca­reer in the re­source ex­trac­tion busi­ness span­ning four decades, Fink has founded gold pro­ducer Comaplex Min­er­als in the 1980s (it was bought by Ag­nico Ea­gle in 2010), Bon­terra in the 1990s and Pine Cliff in 2007. And dur­ing that time he’s de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a vi­sion­ary whose com­pa­nies are suc­cess­ful in large part be­cause they use their cap­i­tal wisely. Fink needed all of his tal­ents dur­ing the dark days of 2015, a pe­riod he says is “tied for se­cond” as the worst in­dus­try down­turn he’s ever ex­pe­ri­enced.

But while other ju­niors spent the year swim­ming in red ink and fight­ing for sur­vival, Bon­terra re­ported a loss of only $4.6 mil­lion dur­ing the first two quar­ters of 2015, and still man­aged to con­tinue pay­ing a monthly div­i­dend of 15 cents per share. As its CEO, Fink must fo­cus on the day-to­day op­er­a­tions of Bon­terra. The chair­man’s role, on the other hand, re­quires a dif­fer­ent mind­set. The chair of a com­pany’s board of di­rec­tors must be many things – a big-pic­ture thinker, a men­tor, a net­worker and a crit­i­cal mind who is will­ing to chal­lenge man­age­ment if nec­es­sary.

As a men­tor, Fink was re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing Pine Cliff CEO Phil Hodge into the fold in 2012. Hodge has praised Fink’s work ethic, busi­ness acu­men and low-key lead­er­ship style as Pine Cliff has con­tin­ued to grow pro­duc­tion from unloved as­sets in Western Canada, mostly dry nat­u­ral gas in its core Car­rot Creek area in Al­berta. Fink has plenty to do as CEO and chair­man of Bon­terra, but he still works closely with Hodge on Pine Cliff’s busi­ness. “He and I spend on av­er­age an hour to­gether ev­ery day talk­ing about things,” Fink says. “There would not be a day that would go by that we would not speak.”

Chal­leng­ing man­age­ment on its strate­gic de­ci­sions, a key re­spon­si­bil­ity of any board chair, might seem like a dif­fi­cult thing to achieve at Bon­terra given that Fink is both chair­man and CEO. It’s an ar­range­ment that’s frowned upon by some in­sti­tu­tional in­vestors, but Fink says 70 per cent of the com­pany’s shares are owned by retail in­vestors who have been with the com­pany for over 20 years, and they want him hold­ing both roles. He be­lieves hav­ing se­nior man­age­ment so in­vested at the board level can be a big plus for a com­pany. “I’d in­vest in other com­pa­nies if the CEO was heav­ily in­volved in the board and not just a per­son who is go­ing to take ad­vice from the board,” Fink says. “It may not be what the street wants us to do, but it seems to work for us.”

In­deed, it does. Pro­duc­tion vol­umes were flat in 2015, but Bon­terra man­aged to do that de­spite slash­ing cap­i­tal spend­ing by nearly $60 mil­lion dur­ing the first six months of the year com­pared to the same pe­riod in 2014. The com­pany saw its well costs drop from an av­er­age of be­tween $2.8 mil­lion and $3 mil­lion per well, to $2 mil­lion. And Fink con­tin­ued with his con­trar­ian ways. In Fe­bru­ary of 2015, Bon­terra an­nounced a $172-mil­lion deal to ac­quire oil and gas as­sets from En­er­plus in the Pem­bina Cardium oil field at a time when most ju­niors were lay­ing low or sell­ing off as­sets.

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