Coming Up Copper

How Wylie Hui’s impressive experience eventually led to his overseeing the finances for mining company Tintina Resources and its two spin-offs

Wylie Hui (Photo: Shawna DeConti)
Wylie Hui (Photo: Shawna DeConti)

There were two events occurring simultaneously near the end of the Wylie Hui’s university term: one for law, the other for chartered accountants. Hui, a budding entrepreneur at the time, went to both. While the law event had more people, Hui discovered that, to him, the accountants were much more interesting to talk to—fitting for someone who was just about to graduate with his bachelor’s in economics. Hui has never looked back, and he’s now the CFO of Tintina Resources Inc., which focuses on the exploration, development, and mining of its flagship Black Butte Copper project, in Montana. Here’s a look at the statistics surrounding Tintina, Hui’s career, and how he leverages his love of maximizing the company’s value.

20 years of experience

“I’m not your typical bean counter; I like to understand a lot about different businesses and how they work,” says Wylie Hui, who, in 1995, began his career at Ernst & Young in Toronto, where he decided to go into entrepreneurial services, dealing mostly with midsize companies. This allowed him to feed his passion of discovering business. The role allowed him to look into a brokerage house, the manufacturing industry, a distribution company in fashion, and numerous technology clients.

After three years, Hui transferred from Toronto to his hometown of Vancouver. There, he participated in the corporate finance practice, spending time in the restructuring field dealing with turnaround situations. “That helped me understand businesses and how to improve companies at the bottom of the cycle,” Hui says.

Hui then veered into a financial analyst role at TELUS’s Enterprise Solutions arm, where he came up with customized solutions for commercial clients so that each company or project was treated as a separate business.  He would run the numbers and create business models that could produce solid returns on investment.

After TELUS, Hui returned to Ernst & Young in its advisory practice and continued gaining skills. He spent time working with mining companies, setting the foundation for the role he inhabits today. His work placed Hui in San Francisco, and with a wife and young daughter in Vancouver, his commute quickly began to wear. “I was tired of the travel, and I wanted to be in the mining industry,” Hui says. So when the opportunity at Tintina presented itself, it was time to come back home.

The 3rdemployee

Being in the mining sector, Tintina’s first two employees in 2009 were geologists, but right after them came Hui. Tintina was looking for a controller to run the finance office. Within a year, Hui was promoted to CFO, where he is now responsible for all the legal, HR, accounting, and finance functions in the company.

“This junior mining company allowed me to see all parts of the business and to no longer be just a cog in the machine,” Hui says. “Plus, I wanted to be part of a start-up and have the opportunity to grow with a company.”

How are you growing?

“The Japanese call it kaizen—continuous improvement in everything that you do. I try to do this and encourage my team to do the same. To be a good leader, you want to lead by example; I don’t believe there’s ever a dumb question. It’s better to have a curious mind and great to have interest in something seeming outside the box. Anything you do personally helps add value to what you do professionally.”

12,000 acres

Black Butte Copper was almost the one that got away. Tintina’s flagship project, located in central Montana, is 12,000 acres of both long-term mining leases on private ranch land as well as federal mining claims. The desire to work on the project stretches back 30 years.

As Hui tells it, Tintina chairman Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse and vice president of exploration Jerry Zieg were having a conversation over scotch. Zieg revealed that he always wanted to drill a copper opportunity near his hometown of White Sulphur Springs, Montana, and recently local landowners had approached him to see if he was interested in leasing their property because the price of copper was on the rise. Van Nieuwenhuyse was quick to make that latent desire a reality. Zieg’s “local boy” connection with the landowners resulted in a successful negotiation for a deal.

1 billion pounds of copper

To date, Tintina has spent more than $38 million exploring and advancing Black Butte Copper. The project currently has the highest-grade copper in development in the United States and the second highest in North America. At a billion pounds, it’s not considered a large copper mine, but it does have a low capital expenditure. “In this day and age, having a $217 million capex project is much more enticing to investors than larger mines that [have] four billion pounds of copper,” Hui says. “Those take billions of dollars to build and bring into production.”

2 spin-offs

At the time of Tintina’s founding, another company called AsiaBaseMetals was created to handle the group’s other base metal projects such as zinc. Then, in early 2013, SolidusGold Inc. was founded and currently houses the group’s gold project venture.

Hui and his team handle the finances for all three public companies. With the help of a controller and a senior accountant, Hui doesn’t just review financial statements but is working proactively with senior management and the board of directors to evaluate acquisition opportunities. These three individuals are employees of Tintina but have signed intercompany agreements to provide financial and administration services for AsiaBaseMetals and SolidusGold. The trio tracks its time and operates similarly to a professional-services firm.

“You could call me a weekend warrior,” says CFO Wylie Hui, who loves cycling—both on the road and in the mountains of British Columbia. “Road cycling has exploded and become the new golf for executives.” Hui has completed several mountain biking races in Squamish, BC, including GearJammer and the famous Test of Metal.
“You could call me a weekend warrior,” says CFO Wylie Hui, who loves cycling—both on the road and in the mountains of British Columbia. “Road cycling has exploded and become the new golf for executives.” Hui has completed several mountain biking races in Squamish, BC, including GearJammer and the famous Test of Metal. (Photo: Chris McKillican)