* Helped Barrick acquire flagship Goldstrike mine in 1986
* Instrumental in takeover of Sherritt in 1990
* First heard of Baffinland’s deposit around 2002
By Pav Jordan
TORONTO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - For Canadian dealmaker Bruce Walter, the takeover battle for Baffinland Iron Mines BIM.TO and its huge Arctic iron ore deposit isn’t exactly unexplored territory.
From Barrick Gold’s (ABX.TO) Goldstrike mine in Nevada to Sherritt International’s (S.TO) Ambatovy nickel project in Madagascar and Centerra Gold’s (CG.TO) Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan, Walter has helped put together some of the biggest deals involving Canadian miners in the last 30 years.
On Friday he came closer to adding to that impressive list by reaching an agreement with one-time rival ArcelorMittal ISPA.AS to present a joint offer for Baffinland after a four-month tug-oF-war with the steelmaker.
“He is a very, very, very smart deal-structure guy. He is a very good, very clever strategist,” said Ian Delaney, chief executive of Sherritt International, a company that he and Walter took over in a 1990 proxy battle.
Walter, 52, a former director of mergers and acquisitions at BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc (BMO.TO), formed Nunavut Iron Ore in August to go after Baffinland.
The target is the junior explorer’s Mary River project — located on Baffin Island in Canada’s northern territory of Nunavut. Experts say it contains enough iron ore to supply the entire European market for years, but developing the remote project could cost as much as C$4 billion ($4 billion).
Baffinland struggled for years to develop Mary River on its own and was close to signing a joint venture agreement with Arcelor when Walter swooped in with a hostile takeover offer, causing the stock to soar.
“I had been aware of Baffinland for some time,” Walter said in a December interview from his ski chalet in Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia.
That was when Nunavut and Arcelor were in an all-out fight for Baffinland, offering C$1.45 and C$1.40 a share respectively.
On Friday, the two made a joint offer of C$1.50 a share, valuing the company at C$590 million.
“We are pleased to be joining together with Arcelor on this venture,” Walter said on Friday.
If the deal is completed, Arcelor and Nunavut will own 70 percent and 30 percent of Baffinland respectively.
Walter, a self-effacing man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, said his U.S.-based backer - the $2 billion Energy & Minerals Group - has the support of major global pension and sovereign wealth funds.
From a stock worth 35 Canadian cents just six months ago, Baffinland shares zoomed to C$1.53 as Nunavut Iron and Arcelor pursued their escalating bids.
Nunavut is not the first company Walter has formed for the sole purpose of taking over another.
In the late 1980s Walter and Delaney formed Canada SherGor Enterprises Ltd to mount a proxy battle to take over Sherritt Gordon Mines, at the time a lead, zinc and copper producer struggling with low metal prices.
“It was a major event, a seminal event if you like, in the sequence because I then became president of Sherritt and was involved with not just the deal-making side but was hands-on with all of the operations,” Walter said.
Walter holds a doctorate in shareholder rights and fiduciary duties, earned on a fellowship at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in 1985.
He’s a father of four daughters aged 14 through 22, and has served as a director of organizations as wide-ranging as the Salvation Army and Canada’s National Ballet School.
But dealmaking is what has defined his career.
As a young lawyer, he cut his teeth at Davies, Ward & Beck in Toronto, where he played an important role in the formation of Barrick, now the world’s largest gold company.
In 1986 he helped Barrick acquire the Goldstrike mine in Nevada which is still its flagship producer.
After Goldstrike, he left Davies but kept close ties to the firm, which is now advising Nunavut on Baffinland.
As vice-chairman of Centerra Gold (CG.TO), a C$4.7 billion company, Walter was key to firming up rights to the Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan.
“He was brought on to the board of Centerra to help and assist with negotiating our new investment agreement with the Kyrgyz government back in 2008 and 2009,” said Centerra spokesman John Pearson.
$1=$0.99 Canadian Reporting by Pav Jordan; Editing by Frank McGurty