MNN Awards: Reeves takes Calidus from shell to gold producer in five years

CALIDUS Resources is enjoying its status as Australia’s newest gold producer.
MNN Awards: Reeves takes Calidus from shell to gold producer in five years MNN Awards: Reeves takes Calidus from shell to gold producer in five years MNN Awards: Reeves takes Calidus from shell to gold producer in five years MNN Awards: Reeves takes Calidus from shell to gold producer in five years MNN Awards: Reeves takes Calidus from shell to gold producer in five years

Calidus managing director Dave Reeves at Warrawoona last year

That success is, in part, due to the Calidus' managing director, mining engineer Dave Reeves, who led the company from a shell company to explorer to developer, and now, producer.

Calidus' Warrawoona project, outside Marble Bar in the Pilbara, poured first gold in early May.

Remarkably, against the backdrop of COVID-19, border closures, labour shortages and cost inflation, first gold was achieved on time and within the A$106 million budget.

Earlier this week, Calidus reported it had produced 8916 ounces of gold during the commissioning and ramp-up period and the project was transitioning to steady state production.

The company has already received $22 million from gold sales, allowing it to make its first $3 million debt repayment to Macquarie.

"It's nice to be going full bore at the moment," Reeves told MNN.

"But we are just waiting on a couple of things - a bit more ore in the back of the plant, a bit more manning at [mining contractor] Macmahon.

"It's getting there. We've just got to fix a couple of things and we know they'll be fixed in the next three weeks and then it's pedal to the metal."

Warrawoona is set to produce an average of 90,000oz of gold per annum - peaking at 105,000oz - over eight years, at all-in sustaining costs of $1290 an ounce.

Calidus is also completing a definitive feasibility study on the nearby high-grade Blue Spec deposit, which could see production rise to 139,000ozpa.

It's not the first project start-up Reeves has overseen, having built projects in a range of commodities across Australia and Africa.

Born in Canberra, he was attracted to studying engineering at the University of New South Wales so he could travel and make money.

Reeves' father was a civil engineer but warned him off civil, so he chose mining.

When he graduated, he got an early taste of multiple commodities and regions when working for Renison Goldfields Consolidated, which had a "really excellent" graduate training program.

"There was no one else and there never has been anyone else that's offered such a program," he said.

It was there he worked with Don Russell, who is now Warrawoona's general manager.

Reeves then worked for Australian Gold Fields and ended up being mine manager of Bannockburn at a "ridiculously early age".

"All of our managers there were under 30 - different times," he said.

Reeves eventually moved to Zimbabwe with Delta Gold on an 18-month contract and ended up staying five years working on platinum projects and then worked on feasibility studies and the development of platinum and chrome projects in South Africa.

Keras Resources was born in 2007 to focus on a gold-nickel-zinc project in South Africa.

"Turned out the gold was silver, even though it was recorded as bullion, but there was iron ore, so we ended up doing iron ore and manganese in Africa," Reeves said.

Delays in getting a mining lease for a manganese project in Togo saw the company pivot to tribute mining in Kalgoorlie.

"I remember traveling back in the car [from Kalgoorlie to Perth] because we couldn't afford to fly," Reeves recalls.

Geologist Ben Pollard had some gold tenements in the Pilbara which Reeves liked the look of.

The lack of interest from the London market, where Keras was listed, led to the decision to vend the gold assets into a shell and list in Australia.

"It was very stressful getting a listing away," Reeves said.

"We borrowed money to buy some of these assets and the first listing didn't quite make it, so we had to extend credit, do all sorts of stuff and we only just made it.

"Out of the wilds of manganese in Togo and now operating a gold mine in Australia - the standard path really," Reeves joked.

Calidus, meaning heat in Latin due to its focus around Marble Bar, Australia's hottest town, listed in June 2017 after raising $7.85 million at 2c per share.

The company was able to raise $10 million at more than double that price only months later off the back of the Pilbara conglomerate gold boom.

There were still challenges along the way.

Reeves said the early resource was constrained within a 1.8 gram per tonne.

"As we got closer, and we diluted the crap out of it for reserves, but as we got closer, we realised this just isn't sitting well so we cut the resource from 1.8 to 1.2, let's just bulk mine it, take more risk out of it," he said.

The advice was that Calidus shouldn't do that as it would get crucified by the market.

"But if we don't do it now and we go on and start trying to raise money with something we can't put our hand on our heart," Reeves recalled.

"I think that's just the key - I don't know about other people, but if you go out and you're taking money off people, to build things and do things, you've got to let them know the risks, let them know the rewards, but just be 100% honest and do the best that you can."

Reeves believes management having "skin in the game" is important and owns more than 19 million Calidus shares after recently making on-market purchases.

He doesn't have any mentors as he says he's moved around too much in his career.

"Not anyone I'd pick up the phone too … I've worked with a hell of a lot of good people, and I soak up whatever I can from them," he said.

"It's more the people I've worked with and I look at what they do and take the bits I like out of it and go on."

Reeves is married with two adult children - one of which is studying mining engineering for the same reasons as his dad - and he enjoys surfing and golf.

His main career goal is to have fun.

"It's all short term at the moment - bed down Calidus, make it successful," he said.

"We are looking at other opportunities, whether we can bring something into the fold or we join with someone else - it's certainly on the radar. We don't want to be single asset producer.

"But just enjoy, build what we can, and I'm obviously leveraged to the price, but absolutely add value to Calidus."

Dave Reeves is a nominee for CEO of the Year, sponsored by Vocus, in the 2022 MNN Awards.

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