Editorial: C-suite departures hit Barrick, Teck, Lundin

Barrick Gold president Kelvin Dushnisky at the Canadian Mining Symposium at Canada House in London in April 2018. Photo by Martina Lang.Barrick Gold president Kelvin Dushnisky at the Canadian Mining Symposium at Canada House in London in April 2018. Photo by Martina Lang.

The sudden and unexpected departure in late July of Barrick Gold president Kelvin Dushnisky — and more tellingly, the lack of a named replacement and the unusual vacancy in Barrick’s CEO spot since mid-2014 — stands in stark contrast to the orderly transitions announced by Teck Resources and Lundin Mining just two days later.

At Teck, long-time chairman Norman B. Keevil said he will retire from that role in October, at which time global business executive Dominic Barton will replace him as chairman (Barton will become a Teck director a month earlier). Also in October, Norman Keevil III, who has been a Teck director since 1997, will become vice-chair.

Norman B. Keevil and long-standing director and deputy chairman Warren S. R. Seyffert will retire completely from the board at year-end, at which time Keevil will be named chairman emeritus and special advisor to the board in what Teck calls “recognition of his pivotal role in helping build Teck into a major force in the mining industry.”

At Lundin Mining, president and CEO Paul Conibear announced his retirement after serving in those roles for seven years, having come aboard as a senior vice-president in 2007 as a result of Lundin’s acquisition of Tenke Mining, where Conibear had been president and CEO.

Lundin said that after a succession planning process, Marie Inkster, senior vice-president and chief financial officer, has been selected to assume the role of president and CEO upon Conibear’s retirement.

Lundin noted Conibear and Inkster “are working together to ensure an orderly transition, which is expected to be completed before the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, Dushnisky, 54, is set to become executive director and CEO of AngloGold Ashanti as of September. In one way, it’s a step down in that AngloGold is a smaller gold producer (in third spot by production behind Barrick at number two), but a step up in his career in that he is finally a CEO — a title withheld from him at Barrick.

Barrick got rid of the CEO role in the company in July 2014, only three months after the retirement of founder Peter Munk and the ascendancy of replacement and current executive chairman John Thornton (the two had served as co-chairmen for two years previously).

Thornton forced Jamie Sokalsky to step down as president and CEO that July, and instead internally appointed two co-presidents: lawyer Kelvin Dushnisky, who was formerly senior executive vice-president responsible for corporate and government affairs, and chairman of African Barrick Gold; and Jim Gowans, formerly Barrick’s executive vice-president and chief operating officer, and a long-time De Beers executive in Canada.

As co-presidents, the two oversaw the flurry of asset sales, layoffs and closures that reduced Barrick’s oversized debt, shrunk the company’s global footprint and returned the company to financial stability.

Gowans left Barrick just a year later in August 2015 and joined Arizona Mining (leaving Dushnisky as sole president), while Barrick CFO at that time Ammar Al-Joundi also left to rejoin Agnico Eagle Mines as president in April 2015.

With Sokalsky hitting the exits in 2014, the president and CEO positions at Barrick had become revolving doors, with Randall Oliphant, Greg Wilkins (who resigned due to illness) and Aaron Regent previously serving in those roles for a few brief years each (with Regent in the hot seat during the infamous, debt-fuelled $7.3-billion cash acquisition of Equinox Minerals in 2011, which may go down as the deal that broke Barrick’s mojo, and set its course towards a progressively diminished corporate entity.)

There is now plenty of speculation in the gold community as to who will step in to fill the president position at Barrick, with possible internal candidates such as senior executive vice-president of strategic matters Kevin Thomson, CFO Catherine Raw and chief investment officer Mark Hill.

Over the years there have been hushed complaints from people within and around Barrick that the John Thornton era has ushered in a “toxic culture” in the upper echelons of Barrick that would explain a lot of the departures and underperformance of the once-vaunted company. If that blame really does rest with Thornton, it will be up to the rest of the board and major shareholders to take action to remedy the problem.

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