‘Too much money is an illusion of sorts, in that there's no use for it unless you’re doing something good with it’
TYCOON FRANK GIUSTRA TALKS TO KATE FILLION ABOUT GIVING MILLIONS TO THE POOR, HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH BILL, AND WHY MINING ISN'T DEAD
Last week, Vancouver mining financier Frank Giustra and former president Bill Clinton launched an ambitious development initiative in Latin America. Giustra pledged US$100 million and half his earnings for the rest of his life, and delivered the backing of many of the biggest players in the resource sector.
Q What is the Clinton-Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative?
A: It’s an anti-poverty initiative for the developing world, and it will use the resources and on-the-ground know-how of the mining industry—because mining takes place in almost every country on this planet—combined with the implementation skills of the Clinton Foundation, to develop programs in each country, specific to that country, that will help create sustainable economic development.
Q: Can you give a concrete example?
A: We’re still at the stage of studying several countries to figure out exactly what the needs are, then we’re going to work with the governments of these countries and other NGOs that are already there, and private sector capital. But depending on the country, it could be anything from increasing agricultural productivity to establishing a tourism industry or creating some other form of light industry. We hope we’re going to have a program up and running by the end of this year in our first country.
Q -.About six months ago I asked you for an interview and you sent me a very gracious email saying that you don’t like to talk to the press about your charitable work. What’s changed?
A: I had to make a decision in my life about not only contributing my own resources but being the spokesman for the mining industry, to bring the industry together behind this effort. So I had absolutely no choice, I had to go public, and I have to continue to stay public, because I’ll continue to solicit funds, lobby the industry, and bring people together to figure out different ways to tackle these issues and initiatives. I wouldn’t say the publicity is painful, but it’s certainly not how I wanted to conduct my life. I am fairly private, but at the end of the day I’m doing this for the right reasons: to create a lot of good at the other end.
Q: You’ve been very active in president Clinton’s AIDS initiatives. Why this new cause?
A: You can’t travel where I’ve travelled and see what I’ve seen without wanting to do something about the levels of poverty around the world. It has to be addressed. It just needed to have the resources and an organization that has the ability to bring together the necessary parties to implement a program that’s sustainable.
Q: You convinced 20 other companies, mostly in the mining industry, to join you in funding this. Was it a hard sell?
A: Actually it wasn’t. I was really surprised. Many of these companies have tried to do sort of crazy programs on their own; some have been successful, but for the most part
they’ve been frustrated that they haven’t had the knowledge to implement such a thing, because they’re not social development agencies—these are mining companies. I found that the issue wasn’t a lack of desire, it wasn’t a lack of willingness, it was trying to understand how they could do it in a way that was going to be sustainable.
Q: Some cynics are already arguing that they’re doing this primarily to burnish their own images. Do you think that’s true?
A: To the extent that social responsibility is good business. Of course they’re going to be interested in anything that’s good business, but I honestly feel that there’s a lot of gratitude that they are able to join in an effort that will have results. The issue’s always been that they don’t want to waste their money.
Q: You’ve pledged US$100 million from the outset, and then half your future earnings in the resource industry for the rest of your life. How much do you estimate that will be?
A: I have no idea. I hope it’s a lot!
Q: More than $100 million?
A: I hope so.
Q: Is it something of a relief to give some of your money away? I can’t really imagine, but maybe it weighs on you to have so much.
A: It’s funny you ask that, because I’m not sure I would use the word “weigh,” but certainly I’ve always felt that too much money is an illusion of sorts, in that there’s no use for it unless you’re doing something good with it. And it does feel good to make a pledge of this kind. I’m of the opinion that once people
of wealth start giving, it becomes addictive. It’s certainly been my experience, and I’ve had many conversations with other people who have been successful and started on the path of philanthropy, and they find that the more they give, the more they want to give. Q: How did you meet president Clinton?
A Through a fundraiser here in Vancouver after the tsunami. We raised a few million dollars at an event in my home, there were a number of celebrities, and through a friend of mine who knew president Clinton, we approached him—he was a spokesman for the tsunami relief effort—to give us a videotape addressed to our guests, and he did so. Through that I got to know him.
Q: What was your first impression of him? A: He’s a very warm human being, you can’t help but like him. We hit it off, we had common interests in books we were reading, an interest in history and politics, and conversation was very easy.
Q: He’s famous as an extrovert, but you're so private.
A: I think we respect each other. I think he’s got his heart in the right place, he’s a hard worker, everything he does is heartfelt, he’s about helping the underdog and we share that common belief. We certainly do share common beliefs about mankind and what our role is while we’re here on earth. I’ve had the privilege of travelling with him all over the world, watching what he does, how he does it, and having numerous conversations with him about everything from poverty to the whole concept of philanthropy, and I must say he’s been an incredible inspiration to me. Now [philanthropy has] become the most important thing in my life.
Q: You actually loaned him your plane to fly around Africa recently. Were you with him for most ofthat tour?
A: The entire time. We did 10 countries in two weeks.
Q: I’ve heard you play a card game called “Oh hell” with him when you’re travelling. Who’s better at it?
A: We take turns. Sometimes he wins, sometimes I win. The game is a little like bridge.
Q: He’s said to work all hours and exhaust the people around him. Are you the same?
A: I try not to exhaust the people around me but I do work all hours. It’s always an interesting thing to see whether he falls asleep or I fall asleep first on the plane.
Q -.Nota lotisknown about your background. Your father worked in the mines, didn’t he?
A: He was a driller and a blaster. He spent many years in Sudbury, that’s where I was born, working for Inco. But he worked in mines throughout this country over the years:
the Yukon, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, he’s done it all.
Q: What did you study at university?
A: I studied music for a year, I thought I was going to be a trumpeter, but that wasn’t going to be my path. Then I studied business finance for two years. I was hired away by Merrill Lynch when I was 19, and went on to become a stockbroker. I did my last year of school while working at Merrill Lynch.
Q: Do you still play the trumpet?
A: I do, actually. I picked it up a few years back, and for an entire year I took lessons again, and I’ve been picking it up sporadically ever since. My kids cover their ears.
Q: How do you raise your kids not to take things for granted, given your wealth?
A: I think what any parent has to do is to continue to remind children, even at an early age, that there are other children in the world who don’t have toys, or food to eat, and it’s incumbent on them to help other people as they get older. But the interesting thing about children is that they listen less to what you say and watch more what you do. So it’s been my philosophy that you have to lead by example.
Q: Is there any downside to being as wealthy as you are?
A: I don’t know if there’s a downside. I think everything in life comes down to your own perspective on things. I think I’m very clear-headed, and I know what my goals are in life, how I want to live my life. I don’t see downsides. I see opportunities.
Q: Aside from charity, what do you most like spending your money on?
A: I’m not a really big spender. Well, I do collect first edition books.
Q: What’s your most prized book?
A: Experiments in Truth, an autobiography written by Mahatma Gandhi. He wrote it in 1927 and I always look at it and think about the fact that he lived until 1948, and that most of what we know about Gandhi was what he achieved in the last 20 years of his life. But here he was in 1927, writing his autobiography. I draw a parallel to president Clinton, in that he wrote his book after he left the White House. I’m fond of saying to him, “You know, you should’ve waited, because I think your greatest achievements are going to be in this next part of your life.”
Q: How does he take that?
A: [laughs] With a smile.
Q: Are you a friend of Hillary’s also?
A: I’ve met her a number of times.
Q: Are you going to contribute to her campaign?
A: I can’t. Non-Americans are not allowed to contribute in any way.
Q: Do you have any political ambitions of your own?
A: Absolutely not. Unequivocally.
Q: You know the mining industry inside out. Do you think the “hollowing out” thesis, that foreign ownership hurts Canadian mining and ultimately the economy, has any merit?
A: No, not at all. The Canadian mining industry is the global leader in terms of mining operations, technology and the raising of capital. There are a tremendous number of new mining companies created all the time. The fact that one or two have been taken out or consolidated—I think we’re still very strong, the technology is here, the expertise is here, there’s an entire culture that exists in this country surrounding mining.
Q: Is there another industry that’s done something similar, banding together to promote some kind of social welfare project?
A: That’s the interesting thing. To my knowledge—and I may be wrong, but I don’t think
Bill Clinton is 'about helping the underdog and we share that common belief’
so—this is the first time that an entire business sector has come together in a united effort to tackle an issue like this. Having said that, I think it’s a wonderful blueprint, and will serve as a model for other business sectors that have global businesses, to band together and then work with governments and other organizations to tackle whatever important and difficult issues are out there, I hope this model is copied. M
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