From snakes to suits: Rock star John Burzynski

This geologist's most rewarding career successes are wealth creation for shareholders and communities

by Jillian Clark
Pictured are the three co-founders of Osisko Mining (L to R): John Burzynski, president and CEO; Sean Roosen, chair of the board; and Robert Wares, executive vice-president exploration and resource development.

The co-founders of Osisko Mining got tired of working for other companies so formed their own. (L to R) John Burzynski, president and CEO; Sean Roosen, chair of the board; and Robert Wares, executive vice-president exploration and resource development. — Photo courtesy Osisko Mining

In 2003, three men worked together to create Osisko Mining: Sean Roosen, Robert Wares and John Burzynski. “We are all geologists or engineers,” said John Burzynski, president and CEO of Osisko. “We just got tired of working for other companies that were run by lawyers and accountants who didn’t seem to know a lot about mining or exploration. We figured we might be able to do it a little better.”

Over the years, Osisko has faced a few roadblocks, but the team has always found success. When asked why geology, Burzynski joked, “Trying to be a doctor was too hard.” More seriously, he explained that he has “always had an affinity for geology as a science.” His respect for geology grew as he learned the depth of knowledge required for the profession. “It encompasses a lot of different aspects of science in terms of chemistry, physics, natural science and history,” he said.

Wandering the globe and then home again

Like many geologists, Burzynski was drawn to the adventurous nature of the job. “Rocks don’t talk back, and you have to travel the world to see them,” he said. “As a student coming out of university, that was something I was interested in—seeing the world.”

He put in his time exploring the world and sleeping in tents. He worked for years overseas in different places around Africa and Central Asia. “I spent a lot of time in tents on the ground . . . snakes coming in the door, that type of thing,” he said. “I spent time walking across rivers with my gear above my nose and hoping that the river didn’t get much deeper.”

With the foundation of Osisko Mining, Burzynski was able to return to his home province of Quebec. “I don’t practice as a geologist,” he said. He has no need to now because Osisko has a team of over 300 workers, including many skilled geologists. “But I visit the projects very frequently and enjoy seeing the progress of the deposit,” he said.

Now, Burzynski’s daily tasks don’t involve nearly as many snakes. “It’s busy,” he said. “Aside from visiting the project and taking people out there to review our work, we spend a lot of time with our shareholders.” His focus is now the other half of the business, primarily in the office. “I can’t say I miss doing it, but I certainly wouldn’t change anything that I’ve done in the past in terms of travelling the globe. It all goes to building character,” he said.

A golden success story

Canadian Malartic, one of Canada’s largest gold mines, was Osisko’s first major project. Osisko bought the property out of bankruptcy in 2004 and was drilling by 2005, and the mine went into production six years later. “My proudest moment was seeing the first gold brick poured in April 2011,” Burzynski said. “It was a tremendous project. We had people for the first 10 years of our corporate existence telling us all the things that we couldn’t do.” Many thought that Osisko couldn’t bring Malartic to production. The Osisko team actually brought Malartic to production faster than the industry average. “We changed the nature of how people look at mining gold in Canada,” Burzynski said.

The three co-founders of Osisko Mining are holding Canadian Malartic's first gold bar.

The co-founders of Osisko Mining share the pride of holding Canadian Malartic's first gold bar. — Photo courtesy Osisko Mining

Osisko’s Malartic attracted a lot of attention. Goldcorp Inc.’s hostile takeover in 2014 set Osisko Mining back at ground zero. However, in just a few short years, they reformed Osisko 2 and are back on track for similar success. “We think with the Windfall deposit, we are a long way down the road of getting back to where we were,” Burzynski said. While the project requires a lot of work to bring it to production, the team is confident in the size of the gold deposit present. “When you get the formula right—when you have the right team, the right project and the right access to capital—you can do great things,” he said.

Despite the awards and recognition Burzynski and Osisko Mining have won over the years, he is most proud of the economic impact they’ve had on the communities closest to them. “The most rewarding aspect of the job has been the wealth creation that we’ve made for some of our shareholders and the changes that we’ve made in the towns where we worked,” Burzynski said. “It’s mining, but ultimately this business is about money . . . making money for your shareholders and stakeholders. It’s something that we are entirely focused on.”

Using Malartic as an example, Osisko revitalized a small town. “Seeing how that town evolved, creating 600 to 800 jobs and seeing how that changed people’s lives—that has been the most satisfying thing,” Burzynski said. He hopes his team can recreate this positivity in Quebec as Windfall cycles towards production.

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