Tony Makuch, president and CEO of Kirkland Lake Gold, is The Northern Miner’s Mining Person of the Year for 2019.
Under his leadership, Kirkland Lake Gold has outperformed its peers in the last 24 months. The company’s shares rose by 60% last year, it raised its dividend twice and more than doubled its cash position, ending 2019 with US$707 million in cash and equivalents.
Kirkland Lake Gold operates two of the highest grade gold mines in the world and produced a record 974,615 oz. gold in 2019, a 35% year-on-year increase, anchored by its Macassa mine in Ontario, Canada and its Fosterville mine in the state of Victoria, Australia. It also produces gold at its Holt complex — a trio of mines (Holt, Taylor and Holloway) in Ontario. Consolidated operating cash costs fell 22% year-on-year to US$284 per oz. sold, while all-in sustaining costs declined 18% to US$564 per oz. sold. Net earnings jumped 104% year-on-year to US$560 million, or $2.67 per share, and free cash flow totalled US$463 million, an 81% increase over 2018.
In January, the company completed the all-share acquisition of Detour Gold, adding Detour’s mine in northern Ontario to its portfolio of producing assets, and entrenching Kirkland Lake Gold as a senior gold producer. The transaction added 14.8 million oz. gold in open-pit reserves to Kirkland Lake Gold’s mineral reserve base and exploration targets within its 1,040 sq. km land position in the prolific Abitibi Greenstone belt.
The low grade open-pit Detour mine adds near-term risk and marks a departure for Kirkland Lake Gold, which has had such success at its high-grade underground operations, but Makuch and his team believe the long-life Detour mine and associated exploration upside makes it an attractive cornerstone asset.
All three of the company’s main mines — Macassa, Fosterville and Detour — feature free-cash-flow generating operations, in-mine growth potential and regional exploration upside. The company is on track to produce 1.4 million oz. gold in 2020 “at unit costs and on a scale that will position us to generate well over half a billion dollars of free cash flow this year,” Makuch told analysts and investors on a conference call on Feb. 20.
Last year, the company repurchased 1.13 million of its common shares and plans to buy back another 20 million shares over the next 12 to 24 months.
Kirkland Lake Gold under Makuch continues to invest in growth. It has started work on development ramps aimed at establishing two new mining operations: Robbin’s Hill at Fosterville and high-grade zones near surface along the Amalgamated Break at Macassa.
The company is also making strides with new technology, automation and artificial intelligence. Its Macassa mine has a fully electric fleet. In an interview with The Northern Miner’s publisher, Anthony Vaccaro, at the newspaper’s Progressive Mine Forum in October, Makuch said he hoped that the majority of the company’s production equipment at all of its mines will be battery-powered within five years.
“We would like to be seen as the world’s — or one of the world’s — most profitable gold mining companies,” Makuch told Vaccaro. “Our goal within Kirkland Lake is to build a company that is profitable, that leads earnings, cash-flow generation and value generation for our shareholders. … It’s not about producing four or five million ounces, it’s about producing the top earnings or the top cash flow per share. That is important.”
Makuch’s father, a miner in Timmins, tried to dissuade him from joining the business. “He wanted me to do something else, be a dentist or something,” Makuch recalls, but “I just always went towards doing this kind of work … and you just fall in love with understanding all the things about it.”
Makuch got a Bachelor of Science degree in applied earth sciences from the University of Waterloo and a Masters of Science degree in engineering and an MBA from Queen’s University.
Before taking the helm at Kirkland Lake Gold, he served as president and CEO of Lake Shore Gold from 2008 until the company was acquired by Tahoe Resources in April 2016. Between 2006 and 2008, Makuch was senior vice president and chief operating officer for FNX Mining, and between 1998 and 2005 held senior positions at Dynatec. Makuch also worked at Kinross Gold from 1992 until 1998, where his roles included general manager of the company’s Kirkland Lake operations at the Macassa mine and its Timmins operations at the Hoyle Pond mine.
Makuch attributes Kirkland Lake Gold’s solid track record to teamwork. “The main aspect of our success is that it’s 2,500 people working together and building success,” he says. “It’s all of us as a group — everybody trying to help each other.”
“None of us in the company think we’re any better than anybody else, we just have different jobs, but we’re all focused on the same thing.”