Marie Inkster, Lundin Mining Corp’s chief executive officer for just three years, says she is stepping down for “personal reasons,” adding that speculation about board dissatisfaction with her performance is incorrect.
Toronto-based Lundin , one of Canada’s biggest base metals companies, said in a news release Ms. Inkster will give up the CEO position at the end of the year. She will be succeeded by Peter Rockandel, a former long-time banker with GMP Capital Inc. who is currently senior vice-president, corporate development and investor relations, of Lundin.
Ms. Inkster’s impending departure comes as Lundin grapples with operational problems at Candelaria, its biggest copper mine in Chile. This year, the company surprised investors by cutting its short-term and long-term production forecasts because of grade and mill issues.
Lundin was also forced to temporarily shut down production at the site last October after workers went on strike following the breakdown of labour negotiations with the company. Lundin also struggled with electrical issues at its Chapada copper and gold mine in Brazil last year, which affected production for a couple of months.
Amid a boom in copper prices, Lundin’s share price has fallen by more than 35 per cent since mid-April.
While Ms. Inkster acknowledged “challenges” at some of Lundin’s mines, she said in an interview she’s leaving on her own terms, and not at the request of the board. “This was a personal reflection of my own, and nothing to do with any board dissatisfaction with the company or performance,” she said.
Ms. Inkster declined to provide specifics around her personal reasons for leaving, but said she finalized her decision after spending time with her family last month in Nova Scotia, and following a subsequent meeting with Lukas Lundin, chairman of Lundin.
“I felt it was the best decision for me and for the company,” she said. “When you do this kind of job, you really need to be dedicated 100 per cent and give it your all. And when there’s other things that are competing with that, you can’t fully commit yourself to the role, then it’s probably time to take a step back.”
Ms. Inkster became CEO in 2018 after the retirement of Paul Conibear, who had been in the position for seven years. Her appointment was particularly notable because she is one of the few female mining CEOs in Canada.
An accountant by training, Ms. Inkster entered the mining industry in 2002, taking a finance position at nickel miner LionOre Mining International Ltd. She joined Lundin in 2008 as vice-president of finance, and was promoted to chief financial officer the next year.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail about six months after she assumed the top job at Lundin, Ms. Inkster opened up about her initial reluctance to become CEO. When she was first approached in early 2018, she told the board it wasn’t the right time, citing the importance of spending time with her two young daughters.
She ultimately accepted the job a few months later, after her daughters told her not to miss out on a great opportunity. Ms. Inkster said that while her family will be happy to have her around a lot more now, given the hectic travel commitments of being the head of a mining company, they didn’t pressure her to leave.
But Ms. Inkster also noted she’s just 50 years old, and isn’t ready to retire. “I’ll take the next year and reflect and deal with some various issues and think about the next steps for me, but I’ll be back,” she said.
After Ms. Inkster became CEO, Lundin lost out to a Chinese buyer in a bidding war for fellow Canadian copper miner Nevsun Resources Ltd. Lundin however, under Ms. Inkster, acquired the Chapada copper from Yamana Gold Inc. for US$1-billion. That transaction was lauded by analysts for adding a low-cost property to the company’s portfolio at a great price. Lundin’s balance sheet has also improved markedly during her tenure as CEO.
Ian Parkinson, an analyst with Stifel Canada, said the news of Ms. Inkster’s departure was “sudden” and came in circumstances similar to the exit of Mr. Connibear. He also left after a period of operational problems at Lundin.
In 2017, a rock slide at Candeleria pit hampered operations for months. The company was criticized for being slow to disclose information about the incident, and Mr. Connibear subsequently apologized to investors.
On Friday, Mr. Parkinson also fielded questions from clients about Mr. Rockandel’s ability as the new CEO to fix operational problems, given his lack of experience running mines, and the composition of the board. Very few of Lundin’s directors have operational experience in mining either.
“Clients have been asking about the bench strength in Lundin. The stock has underperformed because of operating issues and when you look through the board of directors and you see very few operators,” he said. “There’s not a lot of what I would call true dirt-under-the-fingernails type of operators.”
Lundin was founded by Adolph Lundin and his son, Lukas, in the 1990s. The Lundin family is the biggest shareholder, with the estate of Adolph Lundin holding 12.7 per cent of the stock. The company has operations in Chile, Brazil, the United States, Portugal and Sweden. It gets most of its revenue from copper, but also mines zinc, gold, nickel and lead.
Shares in Lundin rose by 0.5 per cent on Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange to close at $9.73 apiece.
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