Alumni Q&A: B. Matthew Hornor '99 Leads Mineral Exploration Company Around the World
B. Matthew Hornor '99 is president, chief executive officer and director of Kaizen Discovery (TSXV:KZD), a relatively young, global, Japanese finance- and technology-focused mineral exploration company based in Canada.
Kaizen operates under a collaboration agreement with ITOCHU, a trading company in Japan, and High Power Exploration, an industry-leading geophysical technology company. These alliances enable the company to carry out its mission: to identify, acquire, explore and develop high-quality and undervalued mineral projects, located primarily in the Pacific Rim and the Americas, with the potential to produce and deliver minerals to Japan's industrial sector.
Hornor has extensive experience in the mining industry, having served as executive vice president of Ivanhoe Mines, initially stationed in Beijing. He has also brokered deals or served in management with both Ivanhoe Capital Corporation and Beales Limited.
Hornor started his career as a California licensed attorney based in Tokyo at Paul Hastings. He gained his foothold in Asia by representing Japanese clients and top-tier U.S. investment banks in corporate finance projects and merger and acquisition transactions totaling several billion dollars.
We asked him about his path to and work at Kaizen.
Can you describe a typical day?
A typical day starts early at around 6 a.m. making breakfast for my three kids and walking our Golden Retriever, Chingis. I usually arrive at the office and prepare for a series of client and internal meetings and calls to East Coast — and European-based investors. External meetings are usually with management teams of companies we are interested in acquiring, potential investors or strategic partners. The internal meetings are with my team — other members of management, directors, geologists, corporate and business developers, etc. One's inbox gets filled up pretty quickly each day, so a great deal of time responding to emails is required. As president and CEO, my attention gets pulled in many different directions, so it is necessary to always ensure that the company's top priorities are kept in focus.
Are you most heavily involved in the legal and business dealings around structuring and executing complex, multinational financial transactions and raising capital?
Yes, and I try to do things a bit differently, hopefully better, than most. I am quite fortunate to enjoy very long-standing relationships with many people in Japan in various industries and government. Since 1997, these relationships have led to successfully raising nearly $600 million in capital within our collective group of companies for our existing projects. For example, we raised $290 million for one of our sister company's (Ivanhoe Mines TSX:IVN) projects in South Africa from a consortium of Japanese investors. In the year since Kaizen Discovery went public, I have lead our team to acquire two companies and raised almost $12 million in the first 12 months.
Our approach is to come up with interesting projects or companies that can be taken to Japan and be presented in mini-roadshows to the different mining and trading houses. A normal year includes at least 10 visits to Tokyo. Once we have support from at least one of the Japanese groups, we move toward negotiating a deal with the company that controls the project (often other listed companies on the same exchange). All of this requires me to draw upon my legal education from UVA and business experience over the years. Having a legal background enables me to more quickly negotiate complex transactions, understanding relatively well the risks associated with the various provisions found in the controlling documents. Being able to negotiate in Japanese language with our Japanese partners also speeds up the financing discussions considerably.
Are you able to be very involved in the geological exploration aspects of Kaizen Discovery?
We have a team of seven full-time geologists at Kaizen, which is very large for a junior mining company. They are tasked with pushing the development of our existing projects and finding new interesting projects to acquire. We work very closely as a team every day — from analyzing and presenting the geological data on current and prospective projects to mobilizing the camps for exploration and drilling at our project sites. I have also made site visits to our projects and am looking forward to my upcoming trip to our most recently acquired Coppermine project, which is located in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, in Northern Canada. We will take helicopters over the Arctic tundra to get there — think Indiana Jones meets corporate lawyer.
What's a favorite experience in your travels for work?
I once traveled to one of our projects located near Orange, Australia. The town was lovely and the surrounding area reminded me of a tranquil suburb in the U.S. circa 1955. It also hosts a number of great wineries and wonderful restaurants. A very happy surprise given the stark contrast to some of the project I have visited in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] and Mongolia. Although contrary to what many might believe, one can find good food in many faraway places, and Lubumbashi actually boasts a great golf course.
I also recently returned from a trip to Iqaluit, Nunavut, to attend a mining conference in preparation of launching our 2015 drilling program to explore for copper at our Coppermine project. Existing in minus 47-degree temperatures is an incredible experience on many levels.
You knew what direction you wanted your career to go at an early age. What appealed to you about international corporate finance and the law?
What appealed to me most was the dynamic career I believed possible in this field given the international nature of the work and wide scope of possible industries. It all started when my father brought me a Wall Street Journal article that detailed the small number of bilingual lawyers, only 20 in Japan at the time (1988). It seemed obvious that there was an opportunity there which could not be passed up. I began to study Japanese from my first semester of my sophomore year of undergrad and lived with a family outside of Tokyo on an exchange program while studying for a semester at Tokyo International University. Full immersion in Japanese daily life was a critical component in preparing for a future career in Japan. After graduating from UVA, I was fortunate to be awarded my second Japanese fellowship (the first received after undergrad) and was accepted to study at the University of Tokyo, where I studied law while continuing my Japanese language studies. After being hired by a prominent U.S. law firm as a corporate lawyer, I started working on cross-border M&A transactions. Thinking through and structuring international transactions was appealing to me because of the challenges and opportunities involved. These deals are typically large-scale, fast-paced and complex, involving corporations in many jurisdictions, and people from very different cultures and backgrounds. Being able to use my legal skills to build those bridges and conclude a successful deal was very satisfying.
What about your experience at UVA Law helped you prepare for your career?
Law school taught me to filter the unimportant and focus on the key issues — a skill that has been crucial throughout my career. Aside from the legal skills (which of course help!), my experience at UVA also taught me that although academics are of course important, there is more to being successful than attaining high marks. At UVA, I learned that creating lasting relationships with your peers, asking questions and utilizing the resources offered can be equally as important.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
One of the biggest challenges in my career was moving from working for and under someone to becoming a leader responsible to all shareholders and my board of directors. Of course there were added responsibilities and demands on my time when I moved into the role of president and CEO, but I also have to prove myself to everyone, including my own team, on a daily basis. Earning that trust and respect takes time and a lot of hard work and dedication.
Can you offer any advice to UVA Law students interested in following such a multinational career?
If you see an opportunity, go for it and put your all into it. Build strong relationships early on and continue to grow those relationships throughout your career. If you plan to conduct business in foreign jurisdictions, learn the language and culture and get to know the people before diving in. And, if you plan to travel as much as I do, creating balance in your life is critical — eat well, exercise often and immediately upon arrival to any far-away hotel, and set aside time for your family and close friends.