PRESIDENT AND CEO, SANDSTORM GOLD LTD.
Afinancial crisis that has equity markets plummeting isn’t exactly the perfect environment to raise capital for a venture in the commodities sector. But that was what Nolan Watson faced when he founded Vancouver gold mining financier Sandstorm Gold in 2009.
“It was the worst time in generations to try to raise money,” Watson reflects. “I was a 29-year-old guy walking around in that environment trying to raise $50 million,” he adds. “The mining industry is a very capitalintensive business; you have to have the mine or you have to have the money. We had neither.”
Watson pulled it off—a result he calls “kind of a miracle.” Others might call it a vote of confidence. Watson had already proven his worth at Silver Wheaton Corp. (now called Wheaton Precious Metals Corp.), where he assumed the role of chief financial officer at the tender age of 26, becoming the youngest-ever CFO of a New York Stock Exchange–listed company. At Vancouver-based Silver Wheaton, he helped pioneer the business model of stream transactions in silver; he expanded on that approach when he created Sandstorm. The company provides financing to gold mines in exchange for a portion of the mine’s production—a stream—or royalties. “Effectively, what we do is we collect cheques from mines around the world as they mine them,” Watson explains. Today Sandstorm, with 19 employees, has US$50 million in free cash flow and is on track to double that by 2022.
Watson, a chartered financial analyst who once considered dropping out of his UBC bachelor of commerce studies to become a humanitarian, is also a committed philanthropist. In 2005, he founded Nations Cry, a charity focused on providing education in Sierra Leone. Watson is the first to admit the mining industry hasn’t always had a stellar reputation when it comes to human rights. “I think often— not always—the criticism is justified,” he says. “One of the things that I enjoy about the industry is that if you do things right, you can make people’s lives better. You just have to make sure you do them right.” —J.W.