This Investment Banker Left Wall Street To Head Up A Gold Mining Outfit In The Yukon

John Burges mining YukonBurges, third from left, at Northern Freegold’s Yukon mining site

Photo: Courtesy of Northern Freegold

This post originally appeared on American Express OpenForum.When John Burges was first asked to leave his job on Wall Street to helm Northern Freegold Resources, a small company mining for gold in the Yukon, he wasn’t convinced. 

It was the summer of 2011 and the European debt crisis was sending investors fleeing to safer havens. While the price of gold was rocketing, the stock prices of junior mining companies like Northern Freegold were going the opposite direction.

“I remember scratching my head,” he said. “Why would I want to make a move in the middle of a financial maelstrom like that?”

But once Burges researched the job opportunity more, he changed his mind, drawn to what he said was an undervalued asset. In November, he started as chief executive officer of the Vancouver-based company, which operates a Yukon-based explorational gold and copper mine that is three times the size of Manhattan.

“We’re in an area where there has been a lot of mining and gold activity for virtually 100 years or more,” he said.

Before the move, Burges was a managing director at the financial services firm Knight Capital Group. He previously worked in London and New York for Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch.

In his new role, Burges is charged with increasing the visibility of the company in order to attract new investors and increase the company’s share price, which is currently less than 50 cents. The publicly traded company currently has a market capitalisation of $30 million, which Burges hopes to double. He also oversees a range of geo-technical issues that come along with a mining outfit.

We recently sat down with Burges to hear about why he left Wall Street, his first 100 days on the job and his future goals as CEO at Northern Freegold.

So what convinced you to leave Wall Street?

“You often look for opportunities where your skill sets fit the need of a company or entity. And I think what was interesting for me with Northern Freegold was the company had a strong geological technical team and had a very interesting asset: a gold project up in the Yukon. The company had very little visibility though. It hadn’t really been aggressively marketed.

I look for undervalued assets. I look for diamonds in the rough. I think this was a wonderful asset that just needed to be polished a little bit.”

So what exactly does the company do?  

“We are a pre-revenue company. We are like a biotech company in that sense. Very similar in the nature to bio tech companies, you have an interesting drug, you take it through various research effort, various phases of FDA approval. And boom, you have a wonderful product now selling on the market.

So we have a very interesting (mining) exploration project…We plan to continue to build it up, to grow it, we want to de-risk the asset by moving through the similar regulatory mining hurdles towards production. And at some point, we obviously could end up being a producer ourselves. But I think more likely what will happen… is we’ll look to sell it to a major producing company at some point in a few years. That’s usually the life cycle of most junior mining companies.”

What’s your typical day like?

“Right now 100 days into the position, I don’t think I’ve had a typical day yet. But obviously its establishing relationships with employees, with consultants, parties that are important to the company, which has meant a fair amount of travel.

I don’t know if there’s a typical day. But it does involve managing the various technical resources that we have, ensuring that we are moving the project forward every day, every single day.”

Do you have advice for aspiring businessmen (or women)?

“I think you need to find something you’re passionate about and once you’ve decided what your goals are, be tenacious and get there. If you have something you’re passionate about, it helps you overcome whatever obstacles get thrown in your way.”

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