Gold advocate Pollitt 'cared more about being right than being rich'


Cynical Financial Adviser Forecast Gold's Astronomical Rise

By Nicholas Johnson
The Globe and Mail, Toronto
Saturday, February 11, 2012

Murray Hoult Pollitt was a stockbroker, entrepreneur, and adviser to Canada's financial elite. Raised in the entourage of some of Canada's wealthiest and most powerful families -- he was the nephew of Bud McDougald and grew up near Conrad Black -- Pollitt preferred his father's approach of building wealth through industry rather than through financial engineering.

Pollitt died last Sunday while watching the Super Bowl at home after a 12-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 70.

He won respect from clients and colleagues for the independence of his financial analyses and the conviction with which he defended them. While he worked long hours as a broker and inspired a generation of investors in gold, he scorned the promotional side of business. His investment boutique, Pollitt & Co., remained small.

"He taught all of us who knew him personally what integrity and character really meant," said Alex Christ, the 74-year-old founder of Mackenzie Financial Corp., a fund-management company. "He was cheery, upbeat, always positive. He was still telling me jokes days before he passed away."

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"'You only associate yourself with good names' -- that's one thing he said over and over," said Pollitt’s son Donovan, 31. "That's something he would tell everyone."

Anthony (Tony) Fell, who grew up four houses away from Pollitt on Park Lane Circle in Toronto's wealthy Bridle Path neighbourhood, later hired him to his first job in the financial industry, at Dominion Securities. He said that for Pollitt, "the mantra was not 'Can it be sold?' The mantra was 'Should it be sold?'"

Murray Pollitt was born to Donovan and Nancy on March 27, 1941, and grew up in the Bridle Path home his father built, the same house in which he died. He went to high school at Upper Canada College, graduated as a mechanical engineer from the University of Toronto in 1963, and obtained the Professional Engineer designation two years later. He married and divorced twice, and had six children.

Fell, then manager of the research department at Dominion Securities before becoming the company's chief executive officer, hired Pollitt as the brokerage's first metals and mining analyst in 1965. While the United States fixed the price of gold at $35 (U.S.) per ounce, Pollitt forecast that it would soar. The Americans abandoned the gold standard in 1971, and gold closed at $1,740.30 the day Pollitt wrote his last edition of Murray's Market Letter, two days before he died.

"He really started to educate me on the subject of gold, professionally and personally," said John Embry, chief investment strategist for Sprott Asset Management Inc., who has known Pollitt for four decades. "He had figured out the global monetary system."

"He was always cynical, he had a good sense of humour, but always cynical of the system, always suspect of politicians and economists and central bankers," Fell said. "He was a total loner in his thinking, in his skepticism."

For more than 25 years, Pollitt would espouse his views during canoe trips in central Ontario with Ron Near and Barry Smith, who became friends and business partners after meeting in engineering school.

"Those are some of my fondest memories," said Near, who teamed up with Pollitt to take over Toronto Stamp Inc.

"I was so full of admiration that Murray could do that when we were in third-year engineering," said Smith. "He taught me the value of thinking like an owner."

In his early years as a broker, Pollitt liked to go for drinks after work at a bar next to the Toronto Stock Exchange where he could mingle with traders, Embry said. In more recent years, Embry recalls three-hour lunches with wine at Jump restaurant near Pollitt's office.

Five years after joining Dominion Securities, Pollitt began a 15-year stint at the brokerage of MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier Inc. While there, in the 1970s, he made money for himself and clients by investing in Sigma Gold Mines Ltd., and began his first gold-mining operations around Val-d'Or in western Quebec.

One of the early ventures was called Valmag Inc., named for the first letters of Val-d'Or, Murray, Alex, and Gold, Alex Christ said. Pollitt and Christ met when Pollitt moved into the cubicle next to Christ at Dominion Securities. The gold business eventually grew into what is now Wesdome Gold Mines Inc., which is presided over by Donovan Pollitt.

Pollitt left MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier with Peter Legault in 1984 and the two formed their own brokerage. While Pollitt sought greater freedom to express his own opinions, his attachment to those views and his feisty style strained relationships.

The partnership with Legault collapsed, as did one with Luc Bertrand, who later headed the Montreal bourse. He formed Pollitt & Co. in May 1994.

"He was a very strong-minded, very strong-willed, admittedly opinionated and not afraid to express it," Bertrand said. "With partners or equals, it was his way or the highway. He had the ability to attract really great people into his firm, but because he was an autocrat, he drove them away ultimately."

While Legault said Pollitt "was a difficult person to work with because of his dogmatic views," he worked 20-hour days in the service of clients. "Murray is such a straightforward individual because he would never promote anything. It was very frustrating. He would never talk anything up," Legault said. "There's a quick buck and a long-term buck, and Murray was far more interested in the long-term approach."

"He was difficult to work with because he had uncompromising integrity and ethical standards," Fell said.

And even though he was a member of the Toronto Club in the heart of the business district and of the Rosedale Golf Club, Pollitt was often dishevelled, wore rumpled clothes, and let his house run down. He kept a five-speed manual Mazda 626 sedan for 14 years.

"You'd never know he had a nickel," Legault said. "A lot of old money is like that."

Pollitt was less motivated by wealth than by independence, and to make money for his clients. "He cared more about being right than being rich," said Douglas Pollitt, 45, his eldest son.

Pollitt, Christ, and Fell gathered each year before Christmas -- most recently at Nota Bene restaurant on Queen Street West -- to socialize and to make bets on the coming year's financial markets.

"His wagers were generally the worst of the three of us," Christ said. "When he wanted to make a point, he'd make his point by making the point big."

While Christ remembers Pollitt calling him the day after the December meeting to tell him a joke about a three-legged pig, the image he retains of Pollitt is that of a British school teacher "wagging his finger at me."

"He loved the financial industry. He loved to say, 'I'm a stockbroker,' with pride," Christ said.

Doctors diagnosed Pollitt with prostate cancer in 1999 and estimated he had five years to live at most. He signed up for experimental drugs and walked from his office to Princess Margaret Hospital to receive them. And while he was grateful for the treatments, which he considered extended his life, their effects sent him to the hospital several times.

A few weeks ago, Christ said, Pollitt told him, "'I'm tired.' Otherwise I never heard him complain."

Pollitt felt faint and collapsed during last Sunday's Super Bowl. Paramedics were unable to revive him.

He had bet his eldest son, Douglas, $25 on the results of the game.

"As usual, he was so confident in his positions that he didn't need to see the game through," said Douglas Pollitt, who also works in finance. "And once again he was right."

He is survived by his six children, two ex-wives, and his companion, Michelle Roxas.

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