He said in an interview on the sidelines of this year's Denver Gold Forum in Colorado it took 20 years - far too long - to bring together Barrick and Newmont Goldcorp's Nevada gold assets. Bristow clearly sees them, together, as the jewel in the crowns of the world's two biggest gold companies, with a huge amount of value to unlock, he says.
In a year since joining Randgold and Barrick - effectively a reverse takeover given he is leading the company and has many former Randgold senior executives in key leadership roles - Bristow has already forced Newmont into taking the junior-party role in the new Nevada Gold Mines, with Barrick owning 61.5% and having three of five management board seats. That was after he threatened to take over Newmont lock, stock and barrel, only to settle for the showpiece.
The Nevada Gold JV is a transformational move and it is not likely to be the last for Barrick under its new leadership.
Bristow will want to use Barrick's strong cash flows at elevated gold prices to continue the company's balance sheet renovation, pay shareholders sector-leading returns, and build absolute robustness and longevity into the mine plans of cornerstone operations in Barrick's preferred jurisdictions in South America, North America and Africa.
He also moved quickly to fix the long-running sore that African Barrick morphed into in the form of Acacia Mining and this month got British court clearance to complete the $1.2 billion acquisition of Acacia after leading negotiations to resolve an outstanding $300 million tax bill with the Tanzanian government.
And now Barrick is aiming to resolve differences with the Papua New Guinea over Porgera's mining licence renewal. Bristow sees Porgera, jointly owned with China's Zijin Mining Group and the PNG Government, as a tier-one asset in the company's portfolio - meaning it has much higher latent production capacity and reserves than currently reported.
"Porgera … is a tier one asset, we've just got to renew this special mining licence," Bristow said in Denver. "We have been negotiating with the government on a 20-year renewal and we are hoping to reach agreement towards the end of this year. Once the SML has been renewed we expect to be able to more than double the current 10-year life of mine which makes it a very exciting asset for us and our partner Zijin."
Analysts told Mining Journal at the time the Barrick-Randgold union was announced in September 2018 Bristow's arrival at Barrick was a pivotal step for a gold major in need of new strategic direction and impetus. Jefferies said the "transformational deal should be good for Barrick shareholders over the medium/long-term".
But in the short term the company's market value has gone from $18 billion to more than $32 billion since the takeover.
"It's now been 12 months to the day almost that here at this conference we announced the proposed merger [between Barrick and Randgold] with our stated aim being a bold one - to create the world's most valued gold company - and in the process we had an objective to set an example of a modern day mining business for an industry in need of invigoration," Bristow said in Denver.
"Not everyone shared our confidence and there were certainly sceptics who questioned whether the Randgold model could be applied with equal success on Barrick's global scale.
"[But] compare what we said we would do with what we've done [and] every single box has been ticked.
"But we're under no illusion that there is not still a lot of work to be done, particularly in South America, and you can be sure we are zealously pursuing our quest to be the industry leader in value creation and delivery."
Barrick Gold is due to deliver a 2020-2024 strategic plan when it announces its latest quarterly results in November, but Bristow told Mining Journal in Denver he wanted to oversee a 10-year transformation of the company.
"Remember, I'm taking Barrick to 10 years [not five], because that's what differentiated Randgold; detailed 10-year plans," he said.
He has said apart from having the industry's best portfolio of long-life, low-cost, high-production assets, what would distinguish Barrick from its peer group was its ability to attract and retain the best people. He wanted "people and structures that are fit for our purpose of creating the world's most valued gold business — dynamic managers thriving in an enabling environment, equipped with the tools and techniques that will enable them to respond quickly and effectively to opportunities as well as challenges".
"Succession is a process. It's a process of selection and investment. That's how you can get deep succession.
"People have said … Mark Bristow does it all himself - it's all bullshit.
"You look at us. We took on Barrick and I left the whole of Africa, which is our biggest region, to the successors that we had skilled up, because I took my whole corporate team into the middle and you didn't see a single hesitation.
"That was a proper succession plan. We would never have been able to do this and prove the naysayers wrong if we hadn't had a solid succession in our team.
"So again, the debate we've been having with some of our shareholders, and it goes back to the conversation we had when I started this engagement with [Barrick chairman John] Thornton, is, how do we build a modern mining company that will be relevant in 10 years' time?
"It means, first of all, getting in the front of the queue for the graduates, rather than the back of the queue.
"We've got to invest in young people - young engineers - because we have to engineer our way into the next decade. And you can't do that with a bunch of old farts.
"At the end of the day any business is dependent on the quality of its people. And I invest an enormous amount of time and money in people. The legacy Randgold team is a very skilled team as you can see, and again, what Thornton did was he cleaned out all the deadwood, so the sort of non-agile executive team, and he encouraged young people to come in and have a crack.
"And we have taken those young people and shared our experience with them, and given them the support they need and freed them up. We as an industry are the most un-agile, to coin a phrase, industry in the world. We've got to become agile. That means you've got to free up decision making. People should come to work to be part of a business, not to do a job.
"We're now busy rolling out the executive development program. Every Randgold executive has been to business school, and no-one at Barrick has. So we have management development, executive development, we've got team effectiveness strategy, and we know our people."
Best new discovery
While other mineral explorers have gone on stronger market tears in the past year or so, none have added the value with the drill bit that ASX-listed Bellevue Gold has in Australia.
Bellevue Gold has tripled in value to circa A$350 million - nothing to be sneezed at.
But its namesake project in Western Australia has gone from zero to a maiden 1.8 million-ounce (5 million tonnes grading 11.1 grams per tonne) inferred resource in less than 18 months.
Formerly a coal company called Draig Resources, Bellevue Gold acquired the former producing Bellevue mine and a 3,600sq.km Leinster district landholding in Western Australia, in late 2016. The Bellevue mine had produced about 800,000oz of gold at 15 grams per tonne gold between 1986 and 1997, but had been largely forgotten since its closure, having been held by nickel companies for two decades.
Bellevue Gold managing director Steve Parsons, who joined the company in early 2017 and bought A$200,000 of its shares when they were trading at A3c (now 60c), told Mining Journal sister title MiningNews.net Bellevue Gold's geologists worked for months trying to gain a better understanding of the geology before drilling a hole. That hole was drilled on the other side of a fault previously thought to be a barren area.
"The first drill-hole [November 2017] … was 7m at 27gpt gold, pretty much from surface, and we were like, wow, that's pretty good!" Parsons told MNN.
Bellevue Gold kept drilling on the Tribune lode, reporting a maiden resource of 500,000oz (1.9Mt at 8.2gpt) in August 2018. Another new discovery, the Viago lode, had a maiden resource on it of 800,000t at 22gpt gold for 550,000oz by October, 2018.
Bellevue's 1.04Moz became 1.53Moz and then 1.8Moz, with Bellevue's the second-highest grade gold resource in Australia after Kirkland Lake Gold's Fosterville mine in Victoria.
"Little old Bellevue's certainly doing okay and will continue to look for those high-grade ounces," Parsons told MNN.
Local stockbroker Patersons Securities said at its discovery rate of about 100,000oz/month, Bellevue's resource could hit 2.4Moz by the end of this year, while Canaccord Genuity expects the deposit to get to 2.5-3Moz in the next 12 months. "The strategy has very much been keep on stepping out, target all in the top 500m for the moment, and then just try and define the limits of the extent of the mineralisation," Bellevue Gold's Parsons said. "We're just really fortunate that we haven't found that yet."
The company said earlier this month it had six diamond drill rigs "operating on double shift" at the site, with three testing the new high-grade Deacon and Mavis discoveries, and following up on resource step-out targets. The other three rigs were infill drilling on shallow areas to upgrade the resource category.
"Since we started drilling we've had really good success every few months with resource upgrades and I don't expect it to be any different to the next resource upgrade that will come out in the next few months' time," Parsons told MNN. "You'd expect to see it growing at the same rate of knots and the same grade.
"I guess the amazing thing about Bellevue is there was a mine operating, it was one of the most profitable gold mines in Australia for 10 years while it operated. Super high-grade, running at 15gpt year-in-year-out in the ‘80s and ‘90s and this is basically a continuation of that orebody and that mineralised system.
"For us, I think defining the limits of the mineralisation is the real key over the next 12 months and as I said, de-risking it and moving it to the indicated category as well, and checking some of these new targets.
"I think when it comes to ultimate potential size, probably the way to reflect on that would be to look at some of the bigger deposits in the Archean around the world. These big Archean lode-gold systems, which is what Bellevue is, they go very deep and they go for a very, very long time and they're not all defined within the space of a couple of years. They get into production and then over time, they grow and grow and grow. You've seen that with Jundee and Kanowna Belle, a whole bunch of typical Archean lode gold systems. This will be one of those over a very long period of time I'm sure."
METS Company of the Year
ASX-listed Imdex, said to have a presence on up to 70% of mineral drill sites globally and sales in 102 countries, has seen its share-price rise sevenfold since mid-2016 as global mineral exploration levels have recovered and its new technology offerings have gained market traction. While global mineral exploration is still nowhere near its last peak in 2012, Imdex has won new investors in a period when the few genuine mining technology stocks offering exposure to the industry's seemingly growing appetite for tech have been more closely scrutinised in the Australia, North American and London markets.
Imdex, which earned about A$30 million on sales of $244 million in FY19, is working to increase visibility around revenues and earnings from new mine-production products, which would complement its existing exploration and production drilling consumables and technology businesses.
Three new technology launches, one already in progress, have the potential to "generate material revenue growth and operating leverage" for the company, Australian stockbroker Bell Potter said recently. "A successful commercialisation of IMD's proprietary multi-sensor BlastDog in [the second half of this fiscal year] would represent a significant diversification into the production cycle, with an addressable market estimated to be much larger and less variable than exploration."
Introduction to market of the BlastDog black management product said by Imdex to have "strong support from industry partners [such as] Orica, Anglo American and Teck Resources" is to be followed by launches of the CoreVIBE and MagHAMMER technologies Imdex is acquiring from New Zealand company Flexidrill.
Bell Potter sees completion and successful execution of that transaction as one expansion risk for Imdex, which also faces increased competition in the drilling tech space from Boart Longyear and Axis Mining Technology, among others. But "any certainty surrounding earnings from the three technologies would likely result in material upgrades to our EPS estimates from FY21 onwards," the broker said. Imdex's heavy patent protection of new products and its advantage as "first mover to cloud-enabled instruments" put it in a handy position.
"Success of CoreVIBE alone - which we model conservatively - has the potential to materially increase ROIC and dividends in the near-term, before inclusion of other emerging technologies. Any certainty surrounding earnings from the three technologies would likely result in material upgrades to our EPS estimates from FY21e onwards."
Bell Potter maintains Imdex investors have a "free option" on new-tech growth for the company at current pricing, which values the company at about A$545 million.
"IMD appears to be a business at a significant inflection point," Bell Potter said. "In our view, the current market price only values the growth within the existing business, while providing a free option on the new technologies. Imdex is still leveraged to global exploration spending.
"S&P forecast global exploration expenditure to grow by 5-10% in CY19, although we estimate that first half was likely softer than the 5% lower band. Exploration indicators such as drilling activity, capital raisings and majors expenditure suggest a pick-up in the second half.
"Gold exploration represented about 50% of global CY18 exploration budgets and has the potential to grow further given current gold prices. Depleting gold reserves, falling grades and the decreasing frequency of tier 1 gold discoveries underpins gold exploration over the medium-term.
"It is likely that future resource discoveries will be deeper under the regolith, which will require increased exploration spending and more advanced subsurface geophysical systems.
"Copper has represented more than 20% of exploration expenditure over the last decade, with the industry requiring material new greenfield projects to meet forecast demand. Copper and increased demand for other battery metals provides a solid backdrop for incremental increases to expenditure."
Mining Journal awards 2019 - The full list of winners
CEO of the year
Mark Bristow, Barrick Gold Corp
Runner-up: Tony Makuch, Kirkland Lake Gold
Best new discovery
Bellevue Gold, Bellevue, Australia
Runner-up: Adriatic Metals, Rupice, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Great Bear Resources
Runner-up: Bellevue Gold
Consultant of the year
Runner-up: Tie between CSA Global and Roscoe Postle Associates (RPA)
METS company of the year
Runner-up: Weir Group
Gender diversity leader
Fortescue Metals Group
Runner-up: St Barbara
Runner-up: Resolute Mining
Most sustainable miner
Runner-up: Anglo American
Best M&A transaction
Barrick Gold/Randgold (including Nevada Gold JV with Newmont Goldcorp)
Runner-up: Northern Star Resources/Pogo
Best financing/structured deal
Nickel Mines ASX IPO
Runner-up: Gold Road Resources/Gruyere financing
Most improved jurisdiction
Best new technical study
Denison Mines/Wheeler River PFS
Runner-up: Los Andes Copper/Vizcachitas PEA