Sam Wong: “I’m not successful, yet”
Chief Executive Officer, Samina Capital
“I’m not successful,” Sam Wong, Chief Executive Officer of Samina Capital, says. “Yet.”
It may seem like an odd statement from the 30-year-old leader but it sums up his ambitions. Despite owning his own financial services consulting firm and serving as the CFO of six junior mining companies, Sam nevertheless feels he still hasn’t quite made it.
“I always feel like there’s something I can do better,” he explains. While Samina has carved out a niche in Vancouver offering financial and accounting services to junior miners, Sam is focused on growth. “My vision of expanding my company into different lines of service is the next step.”
His drive to see what’s on the next horizon, combined with his determination always to do more is what defines his career – a career that vaulted him from accountant to CEO before his thirtieth birthday. Sam began as a junior accountant at Deloitte fresh out of university. While he currently works with mining companies, his first exposure to the industry was working on a Goldcorp audit.
It was the risk – and incredible rewards – of mining that drew him to the sector. “Doing the audits, I saw how many people were becoming millionaires through their shareholder equity,” he explains. “My mentor, Marcel DeGroot [of Pathway Capital], told me the more volatile an industry is, the more opportunity there is to make money.”
“Mining is not for everyone. When it’s good, it’s great, but when it’s bad, like it is right now, not everyone can stomach that level of risk.” In his time at Deloitte, Sam found himself surrounded by people with healthy appetites for risk and strong stomachs. He worked on audits alongside, for example, Nolan Watson, who would go on to become the youngest CFO of an NYSE-listed company at the age of 26 when he joined Silver Wheaton. Another colleague, Krysta Rehaag, left Deloitte for a CFO role at Pathway Capital, later recruiting Sam to join her.
This tight-knit business community is both competitive and supportive. Sam looks to fellow Deloitte alums like Nolan as a standard of success, and he’s quick to credit the lessons he’s learned from peer mentorships, like the importance of putting aside ego in making a deal.
Sam believes so strongly in the importance of mentorship that he founded Inspired Connections, a non-profit organization connecting young chartered accountants or articling students with experienced professionals. He notes that it can be difficult to find objective advice as a young CA, because employer mentors may be biased. “The goal is to provide advice with no conflict of interest, where the only thing that’s important is what’s best for your career.”
Love the company you keep
Sam’s time at Deloitte did more than just introduce him to mentors and friends. When asked to name his favorite memory of working at Deloitte, he doesn’t hesitate. “One day I went to lunch with a co-worker and a summer student decided to join us. That student was Nina Wang, who’s now my wife and the mother of our daughter.”
Nina and Sam work together at Samina Capital, where she serves as Managing Director. He acknowledges that being married to your business partner can mean bringing your work home with you. “We have some ground rules, like we don’t use our phones at dinner or when we’re with our daughter.”
Sam also notes that his and Nina’s relationship makes it hard sometimes not to make business personal. “We don’t always agree,” he says, “and there’s decisions she’s vetoed me on, but every time she has she’s been 100% right.”
Together, Sam and Nina have a vision for the future of their company, and for achieving success. “Our strategy is to build our business rather than strike a big deal. But expansion is the next step. The day our company offers a full range of services – legal, financial, governance – then I’ll consider myself successful.”
Miners look to China
Vancouver’s fast-growing Chinese community has made the city the gateway to China for Canadian business. Mining companies have been eager to get access to Chinese capital, but don’t always appreciate how difficult the process can be. Between language barriers, cultural differences and onerous regulation, many promising deals fail.
Sam, originally from Hong Kong, hopes to provide some insight on behalf of Canadian miners. “If you want to do business, you have to appreciate the culture,” he says. “You need to understand the way the Chinese do business; it’s not as straight forward. There’s a need to read between the lines, even analyze single words in an email.”
He notes that his Hong Kong heritage can cause cultural friction, so his wife Nina, from mainland China, is often the secret weapon, taking the lead on Chinese business deals.
Getting personal with Sam
My source of inspiration: Self-made millionaires
The motto I live by: No one can help you unless you help yourself.
My favourite place in the world: Las Vegas
My favourite hobby: Basketball
Most people don’t know I’m…. going to move an NBA team to Vancouver one day. Yep, that’s the dream.