Strategy

All-Star execs: Top CFO: Jamie Sokalsky

Barrick Gold’s CFO has a proven track record of anxiety-busting risk management.

Top in finance

Jamie Sokalsky • Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX: ABX) • Years at company: 15 • Age: 51

Next challenge: To benefit from Barrick’s financial strength in volatile markets and uncertain times.

The current market turmoil should tie any exec’s stomach in knots, but Jamie Sokalsky’s waistline is shrinking these days not because of stress, but a diet. Sokalsky, the chief financial officer of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer, has a proven track record of anxiety-busting risk management. For example, in 2002 he installed a significant currency hedge strategy, initially criticized by some investors, that allowed Barrick to save $1 billion over five years. Sokalsky, 51, counts it as one of his proudest accomplishments, yet he’s always open to new approaches. “I don’t think you should be entrenched in any one strategy.”

More recently, Sokalsky’s financial discipline was tested by surging energy prices, which represent about 25% of Barrick’s operating costs. The answer? The purchase of two Alberta oil assets, Cadence and Sturgeon Lake, hedge transactions that drew worldwide media coverage. Sokalsky has also maintained Barrick’s liquidity, despite the current credit environment. Barrick holds the industry’s only A-rated balance sheet with almost $2 billion in cash. Moreover, as credit concerns heightened this September, Barrick snagged $1.25 billion from the sale of debt securities.

“He’s opportunistic in the way he handles finances and the way he makes sure the company stays liquid,” says David Christie, director of gold and precious minerals at Scotia Capital, who has known Sokalsky since the 1990s. “He always gives you a straight answer, and he always has the answers. The company’s always run immaculately in terms of finances.”

Reflecting on the proudest moment of his career, Sokalsky takes a couple of days to mull it over and chats with his wife, a fellow chartered accountant. He finally decides it was the decision to join Barrick in 1993. “I didn’t have any mining experience whatsoever. I had never been to a mine,” he recalls. “But in the treasury area, money is money, and gold is like another currency.”

Eventually, Sokalsky plans on retiring, earning a pilot’s licence and spending more time at the family’s TV-free cottage. But for now, Sokalsky will continue examining the upside and the downside of any strategy before jumping in.