Loren Komperdo spent a boyhood in Barrhead, Alta., ogling rocks.
Judging by the size of his rock collection today, Komperdo’s time was well spent.
The 43-year-old geologist is the chief executive officer of Tiberon Minerals, an exploration company that owns the majority interest in a tungsten polymetallic property in Vietnam with world-class potential.
To Komperdo, this is as good as it gets. He still gets to look at rocks all day, but gets paid for it.
1. What was your boyhood dream?
“It was to do with rocks. I always liked looking at rocks, and it was my goal, I guess, to be a geologist.”
|Mike Sturk, Business Edge|
|CEO Loren Komperdo sees solid potential in Vietnam tungsten deposit.|
2. Who has had the greatest influence on your life?
“My father (the late Fred Komperdo). He preferred to work for himself, not somebody else, and I wanted to do the same. Instead of working for a large company, I preferred to do stuff on my own.
My father built up a coal-mining business, which he eventually sold, and then he owned a movie theatre business in Barrhead.”
3. While working in the oilpatch as a geologist, you took a sabbatical to travel the world in 1983. What was that experience like?
“I went to New Zealand, Australia and the Far East. It gave me a grasp on what else was happening in the world. For example, from a geological standpoint, there was a lot of potential out there, but not a lot of development. Yeah, I was looking at rocks.”
4. After starting your career in the oilpatch, what drew you to the mining industry?
“I always enjoyed looking at rocks, and in the oil and gas business you don’t look at a lot of rocks. In 1993, I became involved in arranging a junior capital pool for Celtic Minerals (the company that shares an office with Tiberon). We picked up a very choice property in Voisey Bay very early on, and the stock went from 13 cents in about three weeks, I believe, to $2.30. And I’d forgotten how much fun the mining business could be. Eventually, I left Celtic to start Tiberon Minerals.”
5. How difficult was it starting a mining company in Calgary at a time when the Bre-X gold scandal was exposed?
“It was very, very difficult. We had real trouble raising money. In one of our trips to Vietnam, we met a guy named Jim Bunyan from London, England, who came onboard as a director and raised virtually all of our funds out of London through wealthy individuals. We were able to raise close to $3 million. We probably have just under $1 million right now in cash, and we have another $1.8 million coming in from warrant issues.”
6. What attracted you to Vietnam as an exploration hotbed?
“I was looking for a property with world-class potential with very little exploration. I looked at China, where there were some very large deposits near the border with Vietnam. The geology between southern China and northern Vietnam is the same. You can’t pick these deposits up in China because they’re reserved for state companies, but Vietnam had just changed their mineral law to allow foreign companies to do exploration.”
7. What has been the most daunting challenge of exploration in Vietnam?
“It’s the regulatory regime for businesses. It can take from six months to a year to get an exploration licence. In Canada, you can get exploration rights in a day or two. We see that as an advantage for us because the time for us to get another licence in Vietnam would be minimal because the infrastructure is already in place. We currently have a couple of applications for other licences, and we’ll be putting another one in shortly.”
8. Is Vietnam a politically sensitive area in which to be doing business?
“No. It’s still a communist state, but only in a political sense. The Vietnamese are as capitalist as you can get. It’s politically very stable because the communist state is almost like a corporation. And they’re working very, very hard at changing their laws to bring in more foreign investment.”
9. How confident are you that Tiberon’s Nui Phao tungsten polymetallic property will be a world-class mine?
“I have a high degree of confidence it’ll be an economic mine. Obviously, if the price of tungsten drops to almost nothing, you could have a problem. Just looking at the grade we’ve got with an open-pit situation, the labour costs in Vietnam and how close we are to a port, I think this will be one of the lowest-cost producers in the world. I would suspect we’ll probably have in excess of 10 million tonnes with a grade of around half a per cent.”
10. How will you finance production of this mine?
“It will probably be through the World Bank and the International Financial Corp. (a branch of the World Bank).
The World Bank is spending a lot of time, effort and money right now in Vietnam because they feel, as we do, that there’s a lot of mineral potential in Vietnam with virtually no development.”
11. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in the exploration business?
“I think there’s an important lesson, and it’s a lesson that the Vietnamese have not learned yet. That lesson is time is money. In Vietnam, their philosophy is time is free. Working with our drilling contractors who are Vietnamese, we had to get it through to them that time is money because we’ve got all our overhead and staff on the ground.”
12. Are you pleased with the performance of Tiberon’s stock, which has seen a 10-fold increase from two years ago?
“In a good market, we should be a lot better, but it could be a lot worse. We’ve done well because we have a real asset.” 13. What business philosophy has worked for you in mining?
“Go into areas where other people aren’t going. Try and be in there first.”
14. So it’s worth taking the risk?
“You have to take a risk, but the whole thing could have fallen apart for us. A lot of business people at the same time were going into China, and there’s been nothing but failures . . . . On the other hand, I think Vietnam is a lot more hungry for foreign investment. I wasn’t afraid. I was excited. I looked at Vietnam as a place with huge potential that was untapped.”
15. What’s the next challenge for you?
“We’re sticking strictly with Vietnam. This is where our expertise is. We know how the country works. We know the geology of the country. If we develop this or sell the project or bring in a joint venture partner, we’ll look for another project in Vietnam and another deposit. There’s no use starting all over when there’s still all sorts of untapped potential.”
16. What’s your favourite retreat from the business world?
“My father-in-law has a cabin at Trout Lake in British Columbia. So I like getting out there in the middle of the wilderness, away from everything.”
17. God taps you on the shoulder and says you can change one thing in your life?
“I’d like to have become an independent businessman earlier in life.”
18. What’s the best advice you can offer a young entrepreneur?
“Don’t follow the crowd. Come up with some new ideas, because if you follow the crowd it’s going to be a tough road to hoe. There’ll be lots of competition.”
19. What are your goals beyond Tiberon?
“I’ll probably do more of this. I’m having fun with this.”
20. Would you retire early?
“No, I enjoy what I’m doing. I consider this almost a hobby. I’ll probably keep doing it until I’m too old to keep doing it anymore. (Laughing) I’ll always be looking at rocks.”
IN PROFILE: Loren Komperdo
* Born/raised/age: Daysland, AB; Barrhead, AB; 43.
* Title: CEO/president, Tiberon Minerals.
* Family: Wife Arlene, daughter Carly, 11, son Owen, 14.
* Education: University of Alberta, Bachelor of Science, geology.
* Career: After graduating from university, Komperdo spent seven years as a geologist in the oilpatch, with Merlin Petroleum and Canterra Energy. He then worked as a geological consultant until becoming president of Celtic Minerals in 1992. In 1996, he resigned from Celtic to create Tiberon Minerals.
* Passions: Travel, geology.
THE COMPANY: Tiberon Minerals
* Brass: Loren Komperdo, CEO/president; Kevin Flaherty, vice-president.
* Profile: Tiberon is exploring for precious and base metals in Vietnam and holds the exploration licence and 70-per-cent interest in the Nui Phao tungsten polymetallic property. The other 30 per cent is held by two Vietnamese partners. Located within the South China Plate, Nui Phao is in the same geological setting as large-scale producing mines in neighbouring China.
* Key product: Tungsten is the hardest of all metals and its market has been dominated by China since the mid-1980s. It is used for products such as tungsten lightbulbs, drill bits, golf clubs, jet-engine blades and as a replacement for lead in small-calibre ammunition.
* Mission: To maximize shareholder value through exploration and development of mineral properties with world-class potential.
* Recent stock price/year range (TBR-CDNX): $1.40 (.56-$3.50).
* Website: www.tiberon.com
* Address: #1870, 205 5th Ave. S.W., Calgary, T2P 2V7.
* Phone/fax: 403-263-0055, 403-264-0793 (toll free 1-877-219-0055).