Vale Peter Munk

Peter Munk, the mining business visionary who founded Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation and built it into the world’s largest gold mining company, died surrounded by family on Wednesday aged 90, the company said.

Alastair Sharp in Toronto
 Peter Munk (left), Bob Smith, and Dr Brian Meikle overlooking the Betze-Post pit at Goldstrike, Nevada, in 1992

Peter Munk (left), Bob Smith, and Dr Brian Meikle overlooking the Betze-Post pit at Goldstrike, Nevada, in 1992

Hungarian-born Munk built Barrick up from modest investments in two small mines in Ontario and Quebec in 1983 to a company with operations spanning across the Americas to Saudi Arabia, Zambia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.

Born into a prosperous Jewish family in Budapest in 1927, Munk and his family fled the invading Nazis in 1944 and arrived in Toronto with a single suitcase in 1948, when Peter was 20 years old.

In later life he donated hundreds of millions of dollars to a Toronto hospital and university, establishing the country's premier cardiac care centre and funded a top school for global affairs.

"He was an immigrant who came to Canada with big dreams, surpassed them beyond any imagination, and shared his good fortune through historic philanthropy," the country's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said in a tweet. "Thank you, Peter Munk, for your enormous contributions to our country. You will be missed."

Munk built Barrick into a global powerhouse - it employs more than 10,000 people on five continents - via a string of acquisitions and with help from an innovative hedging strategy that provided Barrick with steady revenue even in tough years for the price of gold.

"He transformed the industry that made him a titan into something it had never been before — a financially sophisticated business able to compete with other industries for investment capital," the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame says of Munk, who was inducted in 2002.

Munk was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honour, in 2008.

One of the very early acquisitions Munk made snared him the services of top engineer Bob Smith and his technical team. Together they went on to develop one of Munk's earliest successful bets, on the Goldstrike mine in Nevada, which was producing 40,000 ounces of gold a year when he bought it in 1986. The mine, located on the Carlin trend, has since produced 42 million ounces for Barrick.

But the company has also made missteps under Munk's leadership - including the 2011 purchase and subsequent writedown of Equinox Minerals, and the spiralling cost overruns and legal wrangles at Pascua Lama that pushed Barrick to mothball the project high in the Andes straddling Chile and Argentina in 2013.

Munk retired from day-to-day operations at Barrick in 2014, when he was made emeritus chairman.

Before starting Barrick, Munk had built two previous companies: high-end stereo equipment company Clairtone, and an island resort chain.

"We have lost an iconic entrepreneur, a visionary philanthropist, and a caring friend," said Barrick's current executive chairman, John Thornton, as tributes poured in from Canadian business and political leaders for Munk, who was known to wear fedora hats and talk straight.

"To the very end, he had a brain as sharp as can be," Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg said of Munk, according to the Globe and Mail. "We all dream of the kind of energy he had at his age. His big fear was not being on top of everything, of becoming an old man who couldn't do what he wanted to do."

Munk is survived by Melanie, his wife of 45 years; by his children, Anthony, Nina, Marc-David, Natalie, and Cheyne; and by his 14 grandchildren.


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