“For me, sleep is the biggest waste of time.”
Bristow to The Northern Miner, having just landed a 550lb blue marlin off the coast of Mauritius. Business he says “eventually kills you”
Having built South African miner Randgold into a $6bn producer, Bristow now leads Barrick after an $18bn mega-merger in 2018
On the edge of a gold mine in Africa, a small radar system scans the horizon looking for electrical storms that roll in over the jungle. A direct lightening strike can knock out the mine's power station.
Churning out 800,000-ounces per annum, Kibali in the D.R.C. was built by Mark Bristow, a burly South African who, after years criticising the gold mining sector, now sits at the top of the industry.
Born on a farm, one of five brothers, Bristow did national service, fighting guerillas in Namibia and Angola. “It's going to be hectic,” he says, before jumping on a dirt bike or diving into a takeover battle.
Studying soil science and geology, Bristow went into South Africa's gold mining industry in the 1980s, a washing machine of gangsters and strongmen, emerging (largely unscathed) with a parcel of exploration assets listed in London as Randgold Resources in 1997.
Two decades on, he had built five mines in three of the world's toughest countries, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire and the D.R.C., and London's largest gold producer.
As rivals lost ground to ETFs, Bristow's determination pushed Randgold's shares to a premium. Continually upping output, despite coups, riots and unplanned shut downs, he has never reported a quarterly loss and never recorded a write-down. Gold companies can be cash-rich and debt-free with high grades and high margins, he says, providing that's what you plan for. “If you
invest at the top and try to survive at the bottom, you won’t create much value.”
Then Barrick Gold's chairman John Thornton came knocking; Barrick and Randgold merged in an $18bn deal last year and Bristow became CEO, launching a $42bn bid for rival Newmont, bouncing CEO Gary Goldberg into a joint-venture in Nevada. “My suggestion is that Gary gets his team up here tomorrow,” Bristow told the Financial Times. “I don’t give away premiums that haven’t been earned.”
Bristow “talks a phenomenal game”, one banker says. He has also assaulted Barrick's Toronto head office, reduced to 70 people, down from a peak of 500. “Within his first month here he significantly advanced our decentralization program,” Thornton says diplomatically.
That cuts $135m off Barrick's G&A. “I am always accountable and everybody reports to me,” Bristow tells MiningMX. It also leaves investors with a large insurance bill. Aged 60, Bristow is younger than rivals, but hobbies include skydiving and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Last year he hit the headlines and resigned from a big cat charity after photos emerged of him shooting elephants and buffalo.
“For me, sleep is the biggest waste of time,” Bristow told The Northern Miner, landing a marlin off the coast of Mauritius. “The one thing about business is that it eventually kills you… If you don’t perform, the options run out.”
70 Down from a peak of 500, Bristow has cut Barrick’s head office in Toronto to a staff of 70
$751m Randgold’s cash on its books when it merged with Barrick in 2018
1959 Brought up on a farm in South Africa, one of 5 brothers, Bristow now has 2 sons