Barrick Gold founder, philanthropist Peter Munk dies at 90

TORONTO Reuters) - Canadian mining magnate Peter Munk, who built Barrick Gold Corp from a single mine into the world’s largest producer of gold, has died at the age of 90, the company said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Outgoing chairman Peter Munk speaks at the Barrick Gold annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo

The blunt-spoken Munk, who once said getting old was “not for sissies”, was also a dedicated philanthropist, donating millions to healthcare and universities in Toronto and Israel. He was named a Companion to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor, in 2008.

Munk forged Barrick to dominate the global gold mining industry via a string of canny acquisitions after founding the Toronto-based company in 1983.

He knew nothing about mining when he bought his first mine in 1983, a modest Ontario operation producing 3,000 ounces of gold and C$1.7 million in revenue. One year later, he acquired a deep talent pool with the purchase of an indebted Quebec miner.

That expertise paved the way for Barrick’s $62 million purchase of Goldstrike, a Nevada gold mine vastly bigger and richer than estimated by its vendor and still in operation.

Born in Budapest, he fled after Hungary was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1944 and cited a “tremendous obligation” to repay his debt to Canada, which took in him and 13 family members during World War Two.

They arrived “with zero to offer, no skills, no money, no contribution, but with our hands out,” he said in a speech last September at the Toronto heart hospital bearing his name.

“To give and to do what I can to help this country, to help repay this country, is never enough,” said Munk.

He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1952 with a degree in electrical engineering.

Six years later, he co-founded Clairtone, overseeing the electronics in high-end stereos, while a partner designed the sleek wooden exteriors.

Clairtone attracted celebrity fans including Frank Sinatra and Hugh Hefner, but aggressive expansion plans contributed to staggering losses and Munk was ousted.

Stung by the loss of his “first love,” Munk vowed to never again operate with inadequate cash or partners with different goals and went into the resort business in Fiji, helping build a 54-resort chain that sold for $130 million.

Funds from that deal formed Barrick Investments in 1981, including ill-timed, money-loser Barrick Petroleum and Barrick Resources, which later became Barrick Gold.

Munk twice tried to buy the world’s second-biggest gold miner, Newmont Mining, but walked away because he wanted the merged company to remain Canadian.

His ambition to transform Barrick into a global diversified miner like Rio Tinto, driving the 2011 acquisition of copper miner Equinox Minerals for C$7.3 billion, failed.

Investors grew increasingly frustrated as Barrick took a multibillion dollar writedown on Equinox, suspended plans to build an Andean mine as costs soared to $8.5 billion and amassed $15 billion in debt.

In 2014, Munk handed his chairman role to former Goldman Sachs president John Thornton.

“I refer to you as often as I do, not primarily because I love you, which I do, but because it helps me immeasurably lead Barrick by reminding all of our people and partners who we are, where we came from and where we are going,” Thornton told Munk at a 2017 annual meeting.

With 14 grandchildren and five children, Munk passed away surrounded by his family.

($1 = 1.2912 Canadian dollars)