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"Sustainability, innovation and culture will forge the next generation of mining" according to Kirkland Lake Gold's former President and Chief Executive Officer Tony Makuch

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Interview recorded in January 2022

By Anthony Makuch, President and CEO, Kirkland Lake Gold linkedin

Joanne Woo, Global Division Head of Marketing & Communications ABBlinkedin


Sustainability, innovation and culture are the three guiding principles that former President and Chief Executive Officer Tony Makuch is focusing on as Kirkland Lake Gold restructures their global operations to accommodate the next generation of mining.

In a riveting conversation with Joanne Woo – ABB’s Global Division Communications Manager for Process Industries – Tony details Kirkland’s process for achieving an actionable decarbonization plan that.

 

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Joanne: Your company has just announced some exciting news. Could you talk us through that?

Tony: We have just announced that Kirkland Lake Gold and Agnico Eagle Mines have merged to form the largest gold producer in the world, with operations based in Australia, Canada, Nunavut, Finland, and Mexico.

We are excited about this because we are founding this new company on a strong balance sheet financially while producing around 3.2-3.4 million ounces of gold per year with growth potential. But even more significantly, we want to become the most value creating gold extractor in the world. Meaning it’s not necessarily about how many ounces of gold we produce, but how responsibly we extract our product, so that we can provide the best returns possible for our shareholders and the communities that we live in.

Joanne: The mining industry is going through one of the biggest transformations of our time in terms of technology and sustainability. As you pave the way for these changes as an organisation, what are some of the emerging issues that you have come across?

Tony: The focus for our company right now is on the health and wellness of the people within our organisation. As an organisation, it is our responsibility to make sure that the work that we do is not all-consuming, and improves the quality of life for ourselves, our families, our neighbours, and everyone that is impacted by that work.

In that same vein, we need to achieve a lighter carbon footprint by ensuring the products we mine are done so responsibility– and at a reduced environmental impact. I think it’s important that as an organisation we have the ability to provide some healing to the earth, and right now we are envisioning a clear path towards demonstrating that mining can indeed become a sustainable industry.

Major push on health & wellness, lighter carbon footprint - improving quality of life for everyone impacted
Open Pit at Detour Lake Mine cc Kirkland Lake Mines

Joanne: Let’s go down the path of sustainability for a moment. Recently, I read an interesting report that revealed a fundamental shift in terms of what major mining companies view as their biggest challenges and priorities. The top three priorities right now are around decarbonization, social license, and environmental footprint and we are seeing a lot of companies make commitments toward net zero emission. What is your view on how we achieve this?

Tony: First and foremost, to reduce our carbon footprint we have to understand what exactly our carbon footprint is in a measurable way. That requires us to understand the scope of our environmental reach in every area of the business. From there, we can look at the major areas of our business that we can improve upon.

The way we are approaching this problem is by obtaining a full understanding of our carbon footprint and communicating that to our employees, suppliers, shareholders, and the communities we live and work in. Our goal is transparency. If we have 10,000 people at our company who each have a clear idea of what their individual impact is, then reducing our carbon footprint becomes a much more manageable problem to solve.

Joanne: You make a good point. I remember at the beginning of the sustainability transition; many companies were investing in dedicated teams of say five or ten people that were charged with looking at sustainability solutions. Whereas, if these ideas are embedded into the company culture, as you are suggesting, it will make a huge difference in terms of decision making and empowering employees to make choices that will drive sustainability. How is sustainability embedded in Kirkland’s culture?

Tony: Sustainability is about more than just burning less diesel fuel at our sites. It’s about analysing our inputs and figuring out how we can harness technology to achieve more efficient operations. We recently partnered a major communications company in Canada to build a 5G Private Area network. From there, we will start to bring in digitisation and automation by implementing connected instrumentation on our equipment and adopting new operating technology. This will allow us to collect data from our equipment and start automating a lot of processes. We also plan to implement artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate some of our decision making.

Reducing carbon footprint by measuring and communicating impact to employees, suppliers, shareholders, communities - a collaborative effort driven by transparency

Joanne: It’s clear that technology is a big part of decarbonisation. I imagine that means that the types of roles and skillsets required on the job site will be changing. What does the future of mining work look like for you Tony?

Tony: I think the 40-hour work week is going to become obsolete and the way people work is going to change. Moving forward, we will start to see workplaces with schedules that are more flexible and allow people to enjoy a better work-balance. When people have a better balance in their lives, they are more comfortable, can be more creative and are quicker on their feet. Because we are in a culture of information overload where people are attached to their devices all the time, we need to ensure people can focus and multitask in a way that is comfortable and productive for them.

Joanne: I agree. Given that the critical inputs that will enable the energy transition lie within the mining field, I think that could really resonate with the younger generation. How do you think we can attract the next generation to come and work in this industry?

Tony: Somebody once asked me: What is sexy about the mining industry? From my perspective, it’s the versatility. There are a lot of interesting and impactful roles to do in this industry. You can be an environmentalist, an engineer, a mechanic, an electrician, a labourer, or a truck driver.

Take for example, the tradesperson. The future tradesperson will need to understand the mechanical aspects of our applications as well as the new technologies that are being put in place. The traditional heavy-duty mechanic or millwright that carries a big toolbox around will still exist, except that they will also be carrying a tablet and digital readers for monitoring equipment. In the digital age, it is a very exciting time in terms of what the role of a tradesperson will involve.

The other part of our industry that I have always found exciting is that we travel to sites that are in some incredible locations that are one in a lifetime to visit. You can see the Northern lights in Nunavut. You can see the outback in Australia. You can experience the culture and the lifestyle in Mexico. You get to experience the community and the geography in those regions.

Joanne: Absolutely. Some of the most memorable trips in my career have been to mine sites in remote locations. Those were very eye-opening experiences. To close off our conversation, could you share what you would consider to be one key piece of leadership advice for those aspiring to work in this industry?

Tony: The best advice I have is to always look for the truth and say what needs to be said, even if its not what people want to hear. When we stay honorable, live up to our word, and hold ourselves to high standards, we prosper.

Technology as a major enabler of decarbonization - structured to help people get better balance through focus and productive multitasking

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