Erfan Kazemi: Seizing golden opportunities

Sector volatility and due diligence equal rapid growth at Sandstorm Gold

Chung Chow photo

One of the first places Erfan Kazemi and his family went after fleeing Iran was the Vancouver Public Library.

“I love the library. It’s just fantastic. It’s one of the few public spaces in the city – it’s actually the only public space in the city – where it’s free. You don’t have to buy anything, it’s a safe environment, it’s one where it’s welcoming,” said Kazemi, who was only four or five when religious persecution forced his parents and their three children to leave everything behind.

A fan of books in a range of fields spanning sci-fi to Shakespeare, Kazemi spent eight years on the library’s board as one of its youngest directors, also serving as its vice-chair. His fondness for the city’s libraries has a lot to do with how they provide easy access to information – and to knowledgeable people who can guide anyone through it.

From the 30,000-foot level, those functions pretty well describe the 35-year-old’s role as CFO of Sandstorm Gold Ltd. (TSX:SSL), a public company that provides financing to gold companies through streams and royalty agreements, and boasts a portfolio of over US$496 million in assets spanning five continents – nearly 46% of which are located in Canada. 

From his office in the Commerce Place building downtown, Kazemi parses, analyzes and communicates information that takes the company through its technical due diligence, helps restructure its transactions and builds relationships with shareholders. He’s also part of a seven-person management team that oversees the review of well over 100 potential assets each year.

“We’re trying to find those gems that aren’t loved by the mining industry,” Kazemi said.

Judging by the numbers – and Kazemi has always had an affinity for numbers – Sandstorm is finding swift success with a deliberate and diligent search for those diamonds in the rough.

Since joining the company as its CFO in 2011, Kazemi has helped raise over US$300 million in financing, more than doubled Sandstorm’s cash flow to about US$40 million and taken its market cap to over US$500 million.

“We may have only had two or three cash-flowing assets when we started,” Kazemi said. “Looking over the last five years, we’ve grown to over 130 streams and royalties. We’ve gone from a company that had little to no cash flow. There are significant opportunities out there for streaming royalty companies. It’s exciting to be in the mining industry now.”

Yet Kazemi had never intended on entering the mining investment industry, or even accounting, for that matter. With a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from the University of British Columbia, Kazemi focused on seeking mentorship and experiences that would help him clarify where he wanted to take his career.

“Where I drew my energy was working with teams and people. And I wanted to focus on what types of roles and careers would draw from those strengths,” he said. The result of his efforts landed him at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). It took him five years to skyrocket from his chartered accountant articles to making history by becoming one of PwC’s youngest senior managers.

Kazemi audited accounts in sectors as varied as technology, entertainment and mining; the latter affording him the opportunity to see how successful mining companies ran their operations. In 2011, he took his drive and insights to Sandstorm, just two years old at the time. In 2014, he was recognized by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of BC (ICABC) with an Early Achievement Award.

“Mining was one [sector] where I found the industry very exciting and interesting. I felt that I had a lot of opportunities within that,” said Kazemi.

His goal at Sandstorm is to focus on building the company into a world-class investment vehicle for the mining industry. And once again judging by the numbers, the company appears to be headed in the right direction.

This year, Sandstorm expects over 80% of its cash flow to come from operations run by major and mid-tier mining companies, “the Rio Tintos of the world, the Glencores of the world,” Kazemi said.

“I believe that’s where we’ll end up,” said the 2016 BC CFO Award winner, who was also a Business in Vancouver Forty Under 40 recipient in 2013. “I think that one of the things we’ve worked really hard at is improving the quality of our portfolio, and that’s something we’re all very proud of.

“We feel like we’re setting ourselves up for a very successful future.”

Outside the office, Kazemi is a father to two young girls, who are enthusiastic holders of their own library cards. He has volunteered at the board level with the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s Vancouver branch, is a recipient of the BC Library Trustees Association’s Trustee of the Year Award and has received the ICABC Community Service Award.

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