In this issue of The Northern Miner and at an event at our Canadian Mining Symposium at Canada House in London on April 24 and 25, we are awarding to Barrick Gold founder Peter Munk our Lifetime Achievement Award for transforming Barrick over several decades from a small producer into the world’s biggest gold producer in gold output and market value.
It’s an award that has been in the works for months, but it takes a bittersweet turn with Munk’s passing on March 28, 2018. Months ago he had graciously extended his thanks for the award in an email, but noted he was too ill to travel by air to accept any award in person.
Instead, Barrick president Kelvin Dushnisky is slated to accept the award on Munk’s behalf in London, and a celebratory dinner we’ve arranged that evening in Munk’s honour will now take on more poignancy.
In these pages, on top of recounting the harrowing circumstances that drove Munk to Canada in the late 1940s, Trish Saywell interviews some of Canada’s top mining executives to learn more about what made Munk tick as a leader and an entrepreneur. We also deliver a heartfelt, first-hand account from mining executive Stephen Dattels on what it was like to work with Munk during Barrick’s earliest days.
Online, Trish and I devote an entire podcast (Episode 98: Peter Munk retrospective — a life lived in full) to chat about Munk’s extraordinary life.
The accompanying biographical story gives plenty of detail on Munk’s life and the rise of Barrick, but we should never forget that professionally, Munk was an entrepreneurial businessman first and a miner second, and that Barrick is his biggest legacy because it was the most successful venture of his many endeavours.
Indeed, Munk was deeply involved in four disparate business sectors over his life: consumer electronics in his 20s and 30s, vacation resorts in his 40s, and mining and commercial real estate from his 50s onwards through his 80s.
It’s remarkable that one of the giants in the history of gold mining only became active in the industry in his mid-50s, while happily admitting at the time he “knew nothing” about gold mining. It should give hope to anyone entering a new business or any other venture later in life.
An unofficial motto for Munk could well have been the one used by special services, such as the U.K.’s SAS: “Who dares wins.”
Munk repeatedly took daring initiatives in building up Barrick: using unorthodox financing such as hedging; bringing in autoclaves to mine refractory ore in Nevada; launching bids — friendly or otherwise — for equal-sized or even larger rivals; entering countries emerging from internal conflict; bidding for early-stage exploration plays, such as Arequipa Resources; and fully committing to large but risky exploration programs.
It’s still breathtaking that in 1987 — only a few years after Barrick humbly turned to the gold business — it would find the greatest gold deposit in North America: Goldstrike. The mine has produced over 42 million oz. gold to Barrick’s account and is still cranking out substantial ounces 30 years later, providing a consistent, powerhouse cash flow that helped the company spread its wings across the globe and avoid company ruin whenever it took a wrong turn here or there.
Despite such success, whenever he accepted an award Munk was always quick to praise his executive team — especially mine engineer Bob Smith, until his death in the late 1990s — and remind everyone that he was the businessman and the company would have remained only a vision without the expert technical leadership provided by Smith and others.
Munk was also a lone voice in sharply criticizing the Canadian mining and financial communities for not building up a Canadian mining champion during the days when supermajors such as Glencore, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale were being formed offshore — with devastating effects for high-end, mining-related employment in Canada.
Munk’s philanthropy was also characteristically larger than life and carefully structured to address his long-voiced concerns related to healthcare and education, with Toronto being the largest beneficiary. Some of Munk’s last public comments seemed to suggest his largest philanthropic donations would come after his death.
We might predict that as the decades go by, the once-mighty Barrick Gold will fade from corporate memory from exhaustion or reconfiguration and Munk’s charitable institutions will only grow in importance and prestige in Canada’s public life, and become his final, lasting legacy. We would wager that Peter Munk probably had that vision, too, and that’s why his philanthropy took on such urgency and large scale in his final years.