As a former banker with Standard Bank Group in London and New York, and a longtime chief financial officer with Vancouver-headquartered Pan American Silver Corp. (TSX:PAAS), Rob Doyle has been involved in some pretty big merger and acquisition deals.
But one of the biggest, and perhaps riskiest, was the most recent acquisition by Pan American of the rich and prolific – but politically troubled – Escobal mine in Guatemala.
In March, Pan American closed on the US$1.1 billion acquisition of Tahoe Resources Inc. The acquisition added five Tahoe mines to Pan American’s stable of six to make it the world’s largest publicly traded silver miner overnight, and nearly doubled its production potential.
Tahoe owned two gold-silver mines in Timmins, Ontario, and two in Peru. But it was the Escobal mine Tahoe developed in Guatemala that Pan Am coveted most, despite the site’s troubled history.
Pan Am produces about 25 million ounces of silver at its mines in Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. The Escobal mine alone produced 21 million ounces in 2016, before being shut down by a Guatemalan court.
“Escobal is really an extraordinary asset from a silver perspective,” Doyle said. “Silver mines are actually quite rare. We keep a pretty careful eye on all opportunities that come up in the silver space, and Escobal has been on the radar for us ever since it was first discovered.
“It really is an exceptional ore body. It virtually has the potential to double our silver production from one operation.”
Rich and prolific though it may be, the Escobal mine has had a troubled history. Local Indigenous people have protested the mine, and in 2017 a Guatemalan court cancelled its licence to operate, ruling that the government had failed to properly consult the region’s Indigenous population.
But Pan American has operated exclusively in Latin America, in places like Peru and Bolivia, where working with Indigenous people is critical to getting social licence. So the company thinks it may have the wherewithal to resolve Escobal’s issues and get it restarted.
“Many of the programs that we’ve developed over years of experience in places like Bolivia and Argentina, we do plan to bring some of those experiences to the table, and are hopeful that in the fullness of time Guatemala will see a role for responsible mining at Escobal,” Doyle said. “It’s got a tremendous potential to really generate fantastic economic benefits for that region.”
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, Doyle earned a bachelor’s degree in business science from the University of Cape Town and then went to work for Deloitte to earn his chartered accountant certification.
“As soon as I was done with that, I really had itchy feet and I wanted to do some travelling and ended up being based in London and getting into the banking world while still taking a lot of time off to travel around Europe,” Doyle said.
He landed a job with Standard Bank Group, where he was senior vice-president of mining finance and metals marketing. After two years in London, he persuaded Standard to send him to New York City, where he started a family. He has three teenaged daughters.
“That was one of the catalysts to deciding that maybe the West Coast is going to be a better location for raising a family, and so I moved out to Vancouver,” Doyle said.
Switching from New York to Vancouver wasn’t just a geographic move. He also moved from banking to mining. He was hired in 2004 as CFO for what was then a junior mining company started by Vancouver mining magnate Ross Beaty, who is still Pan American’s chairman.
“Ross was one of the main catalysts for getting me to make that move, and he continues to be an incredible inspiration and still very much of a driving force in the business today,” Doyle said.
While at Pan American, Doyle has headed a finance team that has executed $3 billion worth of acquisitions, including the $1.5 billion acquisition of Minefinders in 2012, and more than $300 million in equity offerings. He also was a lead negotiator in the sale of one of Pan Am’s mines in Peru.
He is also credited for bringing Pan American’s La Colorada mine expansion in Mexico into production on time and on budget, something that Terry Neill, a partner at Deloitte, says doesn’t happen every day in the sector.
“Rarely does one hear that a mining company executed a mine expansion on time and on budget, but in part through Rob and his finance team’s efforts, that is exactly what happened on Pan Am’s recent La Colorada mine expansion in Mexico,” Neill wrote in a letter supporting Doyle’s nomination for Business in Vancouver’s BC CFO Award.
While Doyle said he loved living in New York, Vancouver is now home. West Coast life suits him. He lives on the North Shore, likes to ski and rides his bike to work every day, rain or shine or snow.
“I’ve always enjoyed biking and so I commute through the winter,” he said. “I get a lot of strange looks.” •
Business in Vancouver and the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia will honour the province’s top CFOs at the BC CFO Awards gala dinner, being held June 6 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For more information or to register, go to biv.com/bc-cfo-awards.