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Report on Business Barrick Gold veering away from Canadian roots after Randgold acquisition

Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristow poses for a photograph at the London Stock Exchange in London, England, on Nov. 6, 2018.

HENRY NICHOLLS/Reuters

The slow shift of power away from Barrick Gold Corp.’s Canadian head office has moved into high gear, just days after it closed its deal with African operator Randgold Resources Ltd.

The US$6-billion acquisition, which was announced in September and completed Tuesday, has left Barrick with a hollowed-out head office, almost no Canadian representation on the board and few Canadians in top management positions.

Barrick’s retreat in Canada reflects a broader downsizing of Toronto as a world mining capital, with fewer global players headquartered in the city and dramatically less mining capital being raised on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Barrick, the world’s largest gold producer, had been one of the last great Canadian corporate mining champions left standing after a wave of foreign takeovers of metals giants such as Inco and Falconbridge. With a head office of about 500 employees, it played a major role in Toronto’s financial scene.

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But that Toronto office has been shrinking for years as Barrick went through a series of restructuring moves led by John Thornton, its U.S.-based executive chairman.

Pierre Lassonde, whose Franco Nevada Corp. has owned a royalty on Barrick’s Goldstrike mine in Nevada since 1985, believes that Peter Munk, Barrick’s late founder, would be aghast at seeing the company’s fast-shrinking presence in Canada.

“I think Mr. Munk is going to roll over in his grave 10 times,” Mr. Lassonde said. “Peter was Mr. Canada. He wore Canada on his sleeve. He was so proud to be a Canadian.”

Not long after Barrick announced its purchase of Randgold, the company’s new executive team dramatically scaled down its domestic footprint.

Only around 65 people work in Barrick’s head office now, compared with 150 as recently as September. A board overhaul announced Wednesday has left only one Canadian director, Michael Evans, and he lives in New York. Many of the company’s new executives came from Randgold and just two of 14 upper management roles are held by Canadians.

Mr. Thornton, the executive chair, is American, South African Mark Bristow is chief executive officer and another South African, Graham Shuttleworth, is chief financial officer. The highest ranking Canadian left is Kevin Thomson, who serves as senior executive vice-president of strategic matters.

Soon, Barrick will likely not have any mines left in Canada either. The company is planning to sell the Hemlo mine in Ontario, the only Canadian operation in its portfolio.

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“Don’t tell me in the Canadian mining industry there’s not great people to run a company like Barrick,” Mr. Lassonde said, whose Franco-Nevada is run entirely by Canadians.

A Hungarian immigrant, Mr. Munk founded Barrick in 1983 and grew it into the biggest gold company in the world. Around the time Canadian base-metal companies such as Inco and Falconbridge were being sold to foreign buyers, he marched into the offices of The Globe and Mail and demanded the newspaper draw attention to what he saw as the gutting of Canada.

When Mr. Munk tried to merge Barrick with U.S. competitor Newmont Mining in 2014, the deal was called off at the 11th hour amid a clash among chairmen and Newmont’s plan to move Barrick’s head office to the United States. That was a deal-breaker for Mr. Munk, who demanded it stay in Toronto.

In November, when asked if he thought the lack of Canadian influence at the top and its shrinking footprint in Canada was an issue people should care about, Mr. Thornton said, “The single most important thing that anyone should be focused on about any company is, is it healthy and successful?

“The issue shouldn’t be what’s the nationality of the people running anything in any world-leading company,” the Barrick executive chairman said. “The issue should be are they doing a good job or are they not doing a good job. That’s all.”

Mr. Thornton, who spent much of his career as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, lives in Palm Beach, Fla., only occasionally visiting Toronto.

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Mr. Bristow, the CEO, plans to spend much of his time abroad, visiting the company’s various international mines. He doesn’t even like the term “head office” and doesn’t really believe in them, he said. At Randgold, Mr. Bristow, who was both the CEO and founder, was known for running a highly efficient gold miner with little or no ties to any specific country. Randgold’s head office in Jersey in the Channel Islands only housed a handful of people.

But Mr. Lassonde says while he’s broadly in favour of Barrick’s new decentralized management structure, there’s still a need for a vibrant head office at any mining company, with the main decision-makers working on site.

“The head office should be where the CEO is, where the chairman is and where the CFO resides,” Mr. Lassonde said. “This is going to be a phantom head office until the company is either sold and or dismantled and then it’s going to disappear. It cannot stay like this.”

The cuts at Barrick’s head office will likely have broad knock-on effects for Toronto’s financial ecosystem that will mean less work for bankers, consultants and legal professionals. Under Mr. Munk, Barrick regularly used RBC as one of its investment bankers. Although Barrick tapped Canadian banks for some of its smaller asset sales in recent years, the miner did not hire a domestic bank for the Randgold purchase.

Mark Selby, a former Inco executive and now president of junior nickel miner RNC Minerals, said what’s happening at Barrick is part of a retreat from mining in Canada. The retreat kicked off with the gutting of the large base-metal companies in the mid-2000s and a shift of large mining headquarters away from Toronto toward London, such as Rio Tinto’s acquisition of Alcan.

“Before, Toronto made sense to be there because you had this cluster of large companies, a cluster of capital providers and fund managers and investment analysts who helped allocate that capital. Those have all shrunk dramatically,” Mr. Selby said. “There is less of a need to be in Toronto today."

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Derek White, former executive with Billiton and now CEO of junior miner Ascot Resources Ltd., called it “a bit of a setback to our ability to remain as the centre for global gold companies.”

“It means that newer smaller companies will have to come together to build up critical mass inside of Canada," he said. “If we want to be the bigger players, some of our players are going to have to come together to step up to the plate to make that happen.”

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