Mark Bristow,
President & CEO,
BARRICK GOLD
“You need an R&D arm in any business, and in mining the foundation of new business starts with exploration. It is the engine that drives our M&A strategy.”

What have the challenges Barrick has faced in 2020 taught you about your business?

Embedded in every crisis is a fantastic opportunity. While the gold price accelerated our business strategy, Covid tensioned up our team, and we were able to prove that this model worked. Five quarters of practice at holding operations accountable for their business had prepared us to rely on our local teams, and there was no shortage of challenges. In Chile we had to deal with geopolitical issues and the Pascua-Lama process; in Argentina we had to manage the legacy issues at Veladero and the currency crisis; in Peru we put Lagunas Norte on care and maintenance; there was a coup in Mali; a democratic transition in DRC; the Porgera challenge in Papua New Guinea; modernizing Hemlo; and unwrapping Nevada Gold Mines. Q3 was the culmination of a global business working towards being world class in every aspect that had been built over 18 months through multi-faceted challenges.

What are your views on the best way to sustainably build a license to operate?

Mining touches every facet of life, so you are bound to run into challenges. It is the way you manage these challenges that is important. You cannot manage everything remotely: you have to embed a culture in your organization and people have to live sustainability. The social side of ESG – poverty – is often neglected. The World Health Organization (WHO) is forecasting that 100 million people will move below the breadline (US$1.90 per day) because of Covid. We have just been through a series of governance meetings with institutional fund managers, independent directors, sustainability executives and HR managers, and there is a realization within these ESG groups of the importance of reality rather than compliance. For too long the industry has been more hung up with compliance than actual behavior. Companies that think simply ticking boxes is enough to raise money are in for a rude awakening, as the pandemic has highlighted that the world is not a platform for exploitation.

Can you tell us the company’s plans for the Hemlo gold mine in Ontario?

When we did the due diligence with Barrick there was a big debate about Hemlo, but we realized that the company is underinvested in Canada. Hemlo is a world-class asset that has been mined for a long time and has produced an enormous amount of gold, where people made money almost in spite of what they did. Then came the end of the easy living and people gave up. Putting geologists back in there, we now have a 10-year horizon to add between 220,000 to 250,000 oz/y, which is profitable at US$1,200 gold. We aspire to build Hemlo into a tier two asset – something that has 3 million oz of reserves and can produce in the region of 250,000 oz/y for more than 10 years.

In 2020, Barrick appointed two new exploration VPs. What is their mandate?

You need an R&D arm in any business, and in mining the foundation of new business starts with exploration. It is the engine that drives our M&A strategy. We brought Aofie McGrath into Africa where we already have a very strong geology drive and exploration teams. To reestablish Barrick in Latin America, we brought in Leandro Sastre, who was a very smart mineral resource manager at Veladero with a lot of experience.

From an M&A perspective, what type of assets would you be interested in to increase Barrick’s portfolio in Canada?

We are actively looking for ways to increase Barrick’s portfolio in Canada, as it is a very solid destination to invest your money, is mining-friendly, and we have tax benefits here. We have looked at the new emerging geology of British Columbia and the big greenstone belts of Canada, in particular the Archean greenstones of Ontario and Québec. We are agnostic on whether it’s M&A, greenfield, a single or a multi-asset company. What is important is the quality. We are looking at one early-stage opportunity to consolidate a reasonable footprint, and Barrick has a team dedicated to explore such opportunities.