Nolan Watson and daughters

Nolan Watson, CPA, CFA, is one of the most astute CEOs in mining under 40. In 2005, he became the first employee of Silver Wheaton after it was spun out of Ian Telfer’s Goldcorp. Watson was appointed CFO shortly thereafter and the company quickly became the world’s largest silver producer. Watson left Silver Wheaton in 2008 to co-found Sandstorm Gold (TSE:SSL), a gold streaming and royalty business. Coming out of the financial crisis, Watson raised several hundred million dollars as president, CEO and Chairman of Sandstorm, helping the company to acquire ten streams and thirty six royalties on various precious metals projects around the world. Mr. Watson is also the founder of Nations Cry, a non-profit organization focused on improving the lives of disadvantaged youth, especially in Africa. Mr. Watson’s business and philanthropic aspirations are massive. Sandstorm Gold, worth roughly $400 million today, will eventually surpass a $10 billion market capitalization if Mr. Watson has his way. The up and coming gold streaming titan generously shared some of his perspectives on success with me over coffee the other day. Below are select excerpts from our conversation: 

Nolan, what is your advice to the young man or women who aspires to be rich?

Many young entrepreneurs, business graduates, and sometimes everyday people spend vast amounts of mental effort thinking about how to get rich. They obsess over it, they day dream about it, and they are convinced their lives will be better if they can accomplish it. I believe they are misguided and wrong.

If someone begins their career with the main goal of “becoming rich” what they are effectively unconsciously saying is that life has no purpose other than to serve oneself, and their ultimate goal is to increase their stature and their consumption of meaningless things. I believe the opposite, which is that life is full of purpose, and a material mental effort should be dedicated to evaluating what that purpose is and how to accomplish it. Living a life of purpose and attempting to leave the world in a better place is a worthy endeavour and it is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that accomplishing such purpose will require resources, such as money. To that extent, it is critical to understand that money is a very important means to an end, and the ability to possess it, and control it may be required to accomplish your purpose.

I’ve heard you talk about hard work, long term, and not cutting corners…

The surest way to fail at acquiring wealth is to try to do it fast. People often forget to invest in themselves first and they quickly rush into great sounding ideas and business and then proceed to lose everything they had, because they lacked the knowledge, experience and wisdom required to succeed. If you want to acquire wealth, you should invest in yourself first, and sometimes that takes time.

What are your feelings about living with debt?

I have always lived a debt free life. Even as CFO of a multi-billion dollar company, I rented a basement suite, because I wanted to avoid personal debt. I didn’t buy my first house until I could pay in cash. Some people consider this too conservative however I knew that sometimes in order to become successful you have to take risk. I have seen many people have great opportunities in life that they had to pass up because they had debt and couldn’t take the risk of things going wrong financially. By avoiding debt, I was able to take financial risks at a young age such as walking away from a good job to start up Sandstorm Gold.

How important is health and exercise to finding success in business?

Being successful at what you do requires that you are a resilient person. Resilient people can withstand stress better, think more clearly, stay positive in challenging situations and bounce back from failure more quickly. Health and exercise are crucial elements of being a resilient person. Over the years, I have learned this lesson the hard way and now working out is a regular part of my life.

How about having a vision coupled with sound experience to execute your goals?

Without vision you can’t get started and without experience you likely won’t finish.

What is the best way to preserve wealth?

Living within your means is the best way to preserve your wealth, but it is harder to do than one expects. It means saying no to your ego which is hard for most people to do. The best way to live within your means is to continually focus on your purpose and trying to make the world a better place. If you do that, you have a chance at staying focused on what matters and realizing that life is about what you do, not about what you have.

Who are some of the people that have influenced you in your life?

I am very close to my family and they have the single largest influence on my life. They keep me focused on my values, and remind me of the importance of integrity.

What’s more thrilling for you, chasing the money, or enjoying it once you’ve got it?

Chasing the money is the most thrilling part, but if you live right, re-deploying it is the most meaningful part.

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