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being competitive harder at times. For reasons that I perceive better now than in my youth, however, a more philosophical posture – especially when stress-tested in reality – has proven to be a key determinant of success. This approach certainly has not prevented me from being extraordinarily lucky in exploration – the riskiest part of a risky business – or in the fortuitous timing of our more intrepid acquisitions. Such susceptibility for lucky breaks has given my team at Electrum a comparative advantage that we’ve pressed on numerous occasions over the past 25 years. Our track record can attest to the fact that the fruits have much, much more outweighed any limitations presumably imposed by my personal ethos, summed up by Electrum’s corporate motto:
Intelligence is a commodity; Character is a currency.
One of the best examples of the buona
fortuna that I believe emanates from this precept was the fruit that fell into my lap in December
2008 when, with the wise counsel of The Electrum Group’s President (and fellow NOVAGOLD Director) Igor Levental, we entered the NOVAGOLD saga
as something of a white knight, purchasing the company’s shares for the very first time in order
to save it from existential challenges across an extraordinarily broad front. Putting aside the fact that the economic environment at that time was not particularly permissive of any investment at all, our intervention appeared – even to our closest friends – as akin to catching a falling knife. The news on NOVAGOLD was littered with fires that desperately
needed to be put out: debt coming due; class-action lawsuits; environmental disputes with the EPA (regarding a modest gold property that was remediated and divested many years ago); loss of credibility with investors and analysts; and hostility from at least one of its key partners. I could go on. But being that we were not irrational by nature – and that it’s much more fun to speak to what transpired afterward – we reached the conclusion that taking control of the company would prove to be worth it.
  Double the gold industry’s average grade.
* Donlin Gold data as per the second updated feasibility study effective November 18, 2011, as amended January 20, 2012. Represents measured and indicated resources which are inclusive of proven and probable reserves. Measured resources total 8M tonnes grading 2.52 g/t Au, and indicated resources total 534M tonnes grading 2.24 g/t Au. Proven reserves total 8M tonnes grading 2.32 g/t Au, and probable reserves total 497M tonnes grading 2.08 g/t Au.
† 2017 average grade of open-pit and underground deposits with gold as primary commodity and over 1 Moz in measured and indicated resources, sourced from S&P Global Market Intelligence.
             Donlin Gold average grade* world average grade†
2.24g/t 1.12g/t
As a bit of background, I had long coveted exposure to the Donlin story. Watching from a distance from the early 2000s, I felt that I had missed the chance as NOVAGOLD’s shares rose from pennies to several dollars on the back of drilling that produced what were clearly among the best exploration results in the gold industry.
I wasn’t the only one who saw this potential; Barrick not only shared my view, but also tried to buy the company in 2006. The failure of their takeover attempt was to have enormous implications for both companies. While
it was separate company-specific and financial crisis-related factors that crippled NOVAGOLD and led to our intervention, what was never in dispute was that Donlin Gold constituted a rare combination of both jewel and elephant.
I often tell the story about how I gave my team 48 hours to perform the due diligence on NOVAGOLD before pulling the trigger on the deal – a time frame that should appear to be reckless any time geology is involved. My reasoning was redolent of the joke about the two hikers who run into a bear in the woods: One hiker starts to run, while the other calmly kneels and starts to put on his running shoes. The man already running shouts to his companion and asks what he’s doing. The one tying his laces answers, “Sorry, but I reckon I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.” Similarly, I said to my team, “We don’t have to believe NOVAGOLD about Donlin; we just have to believe Barrick.” Barrick being a first-rate company, the due diligence from public sources was remarkably straightforward. Only after we had made our investment in NOVAGOLD did we send our chief geologist, Dr. Larry Buchanan, to walk the property and share his impressions. “Is the deposit what we thought at Donlin?” I asked upon his return. “Oh no,” said Larry. Mercifully, he quickly added, “With an 8km strike being 5 or so percent of the property package, the next Donlin could be at Donlin. Congratulations.”
The problems the company faced nonetheless were real and rather daunting. It took some doing to clean up those burdens that made our exercise appear death-defying. But the company was turned around, we raised

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