The Young Mining Professionals (YMP) — a non-profit group with chapters in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal — has awarded its inaugural, annual YMP Awards to Nolan Watson, president and CEO of Vancouver-based royalty firm Sandstorm Gold, and Alicia Woods, founder of Covergalls, which specializes in women’s work wear, and general manager of Marcotte Mining Machinery Services in Sudbury, Ontario.
The YMP Awards, presented in association with The Northern Miner, are intended by the YMP to “recognize two young mining professionals, a male and a female, who over the past year, and during the course of their careers, have demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and innovative thinking to provide value for their companies and shareholders, as well as for themselves.”
Nominees are required to be under 40 years of age in 2016 and be active in some aspect of mining in Canada or the United States. Voting on a selection of nominees was held in January by a committee of four YMP directors and two Northern Miner executives.
Nolan Watson wins the Peter Munk Award (male), named after the legendary founder of Barrick Gold, while Alicia Woods wins the Eira Thomas award (female), named after the iconic mining executive who first gained prominence for her role in growing the diamond miner Aber Resources.
The YMP Awards Gala to present the two with their awards will be held on Sat., March 4 at the Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Toronto, the day before the start of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention. Tickets are limited and can be purchased at http://www.youngminingprofessionals.com/store/p19/YMPAwards17.
Barrick Gold, KPMG, Cassels Brock and the PDAC are the gala sponsors.
Peter Munk Award winner Nolan Watson has emerged as one of the brightest young leaders in the mining business. His journey began in 2004, at the age of 25, when he joined an experienced team of company builders as Goldcorp spun-off Silver Wheaton, which would go on to pioneer stream financing in the mining industry.
Watson emerged as an important figure in Silver Wheaton’s history.
As Silver Wheaton’s chief financial officer, Watson wrote in an early business plan that the company’s goal was to “be recognized as the largest, most profitable and best managed silver company in the world.” Four years later Silver Wheaton’s market capitalization exceeded US$5 billion, and today it remains the largest precious metals streaming company globally.
Watson helped build Silver Wheaton to these heights before his 30th birthday, and was involved in raising over US$1 billion in debt and equity capital.
But Watson was just getting started.
He was part of the team that founded Sandstorm Gold in early 2008 with the goal of building a new streaming company from the ground up. Unlike Silver Wheaton, Sandstorm did not inherit a portfolio or connections to an established mining company. It was founded on an experienced technical team and Watson’s commitment to becoming the “best managed commodity finance company in the world.”
Watson led Sandstorm’s acquisition of over 130 streams and royalties, which have fueled the company’s growth from essentially a shell vehicle into an influential financial player with a market capitalization of nearly $900 million, and over U$60 million in annual revenues. The company has deployed in excess of US$650 million over the past seven years, and is hoping to be the first to deliver a dividend in physical gold.
Watson combines his business acumen with an unwavering commitment to charity and social issues.
In the summer of 1998, he told his parents he was dropping out of university to pursue humanitarian causes, saying “life is too short to live it for yourself.” Watson was convinced to return to school and finish his degree, but his dedication to helping others never faded.
In 2003, he invested his life savings to found Nations Cry, a charitable foundation dedicated to providing education to children in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The organization has raised over $1 million in donations, built two schools, and continues to aid students in completing secondary level education and trade certifications.
Nations Cry’s Pathway Academy opened its doors to the community of Waterloo, Sierra Leone, in early 2016, and is expected to eventually enroll 200 students.
Watson is a Fellow of Chartered Professional Accountants, and a designated Chartered Financial Analyst, and has a Bachelor of Commerce degree, with honours, from the University of British Columbia.
He has won numerous awards for his professional and charitable achievements, including being recognized by the World Economic Forum as a “Young Global Leader”; Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 award; BC CEO of the Year by Business In Vancouver; and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
The recipient of the inaugural Eira Thomas Award is mining entrepreneur Alicia Woods (b. 1978), the founder of Covergalls, which specializes in women’s work wear, and the general manager of Marcotte Mining Machinery Services.
Woods’ interest in the mining industry began at a young age. In 1979, her father Paul Marcotte, along with her grandfather and uncles, created Marcotte Mining, an underground mining equipment manufacturer.
“As you can imagine growing up, I would spend my weekends going to work with my father in the shop. And it always piqued my interest because there was always so much going on. There was engineering work, there was design and manufacturing,” Woods says in an interview. “So growing up, I thought, I would always be my dad.”
Her dream of joining the industry, however, faded when her dad died unexpectedly in 1992. A few years later, the family business was sold to another company.
Woods initially pursued a career in teaching, until she found herself back in familiar territory, after landing a part-time job at Marcotte Mining in 2000. Throughout her years there, she held several administrative, sales and marketing positions.
Woods recalls that the first time she went underground in 2000, there was no personal protective equipment — coveralls, belts, safety gloves, safety glasses, hard hats — designed for women.
“I could not believe there was nothing for women, so I just put on the smallest I could find in all the men’s stuff. But it wasn’t until I went underground and asked to use the washroom that I realized the real challenges of men’s coveralls.”
Woods searched to see if she could find a coverall that didn’t have to be taken off like a onesie to use the washroom, but came up empty-handed.
For the next 10 years, Woods stopped drinking liquids before going underground to avoid the awkward trip to the washroom. “Then one summer I was underground at a potash mine. It was dry and dusty and I had consumed three bottles of water.”
Woods was ready to go back to surface, when the cage went down for maintenance. “I had to face what I avoided all those years, which was using a porta-potty, no doors — disgusting. When I came home, I said, ‘That’s it! I can’t be the only woman struggling with wearing men’s work clothes. So, I designed the covergall for myself.”
With the help of a seamstress, Woods made a prototype pair of covergalls, keeping functionality and safety in mind. The covergall has a rear opening, secured pockets and wrist snaps for a better fit. It also has an adjustable Velcro waist and a main two-way zipper. All of these features were lacking in the traditional coverall.
Receiving positive feedback from other women, Woods launched the Canadian-designed and made Covergalls in 2014. From there, she expanded the product line for women to include bibs, shirts, pants and accessories. Given the popularity of her products, Woods introduced a line for men and kids.
Woods advises other young professionals not to let the fear of failure stop them from pursuing their dreams.
“Too often people think of the reasons not to do something, whether it’s to pursue a career opportunity, or to pursue a product or service that you want to create. I really think you need to give it a shot. I know, for me, in the beginning it was ‘should I?’ But I thought if I don’t, in a number of years I would wonder why I didn’t.”
She continues that “you really have two choices, and one is that you can build someone else’s dream, or you can choose to build your own. I have decided to pursue the path of building my own dream.”
As part of that quest, Woods aims to expand Covergalls into other industries and countries. Woods returned to Marcotte as general manager in late 2015, following seven years as a sales director at MacLean Engineering. She sits on the board of directors for the Northern Ontario Mining Supply & Services Association.
Woods was named a Woman of Distinction by the YWCA in 2016 and Young Entrepreneur of the Year (2015) by Influential Women of Northern Ontario. She is also the recipient of the 40 under 40 by Northern Ontario Business and received the Innovation Award by BPW.
Woods lives in her hometown of Sudbury, Ont., with her husband and two children.