WHO’S WHO » GOLD
With 20 gold mines and 118m-ounces in the ground worth $158bn, Colorado-based Newmont is sitting on the world’s largest gold reserve
Having bought Goldcorp for $10bn this year, Newmont is due to produce 6 to 7m ounces in 2019, vs 5.6m for Barrick and 2.8m for Kinross
Founded as a copper company by American financiers almost a century ago, Newmont is now known as the grand old lady of the mining world
Earlier this year, Newmont's CEO Gary Goldberg sat down for dinner at the Four Seasons hotel in New York. Opposite was Barrick Gold's free-wheeling CEO Mark Bristow, known for red wine and triple espresso. Bristow was on a run of deals, publicly pushing for a $42bn takeover of Newmont. “These companies pay these guys a lot of money,” VanEck fund manager Joe Foster told Reuters. “They need to find a place in the middle.”
By the end of the evening, Goldberg had folded Newmont's largest operations into Barrick's neighbouring mines in Nevada, handing Barrick control, defusing the largest hostile bid that gold has ever seen. Goldberg flew to Toronto and was soon signing a joint-venture agreement, before returning to his own transaction, buying Canada's Goldcorp for $10bn, ushering investors into the deal with a $470m special dividend, closing the door on its Vancouver headquarters and consolidating Newmont's position as the biggest mining company in gold.
Like Newmont, Goldberg has spent decades building a reputation as one of the sector’s steadiest operators. Growing up in the US, his family owned a gold mining stake in Colorado, which they worked on summer vacations. With an MBA from Utah, he joined Rio Tinto in copper and coal, managing its borates mine in California, now known as one of the industry’s safest operations.
Systematic, level-headed and error-free, by the time he joined Newmont in 2013, Goldberg was seen as an airline pilot of the industry; even when he is talking to investors in hotels in London or Toronto, Goldberg begins most meetings with a map of the fire escapes. From skiing at Davos to flying around the world discussing strategy, his position is “as energising as it is intense”, Goldberg tells Global Mining Observer. Newmont has met its goal of becoming “the world’s leading gold business and we'll maintain that position.”
Alongside the heads of Rio Tinto and Anglo American, Goldberg, 59, was one of a small group of mining executives who flew to the Vatican for meetings with the Pope in 2015. Any prospect of a deal with Barrick has been deferred for now. When Goldberg steps aside before the end of 2019, rivals will push to reopen the question.
If Newmont needed an ally in the banking world, it has one in chair Noreen Doyle, an Ivy League-educated American (with an Irish passport) who went into banking in the 1970s and spent four decades skipping lunch in favour of a sandwich at her desk, rising to chair of Credit Suisse in London.
Truly transatlantic, Doyle has served on dozens of boards, from think tanks in New York to British arms manufacturers expanding in the US. Her forte is steering divergent groups towards consensus, from banks and politicians setting supertax levels to environmentalists and lenders thrashing-out loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (Doyle built its syndication division).
Executives tend to do what they're measured on, Doyle says, and a company's reputation is “the most valuable asset” it has. Whilst banking has gone from “respectable and dull” to “something worse”, mining offers an “endlessly intriguing” combination of politics and M&A. Doyle is chair of the British Bankers’ Association. Advises headhunter Sapphire Partners. MBA from Tuck School of Business, New Hampshire.
Thomas Palmer was already managing 85 per cent of Newmont’s workforce when its board announced he would become the next CEO. True to Newmont's conservative culture, he has maintained a low profile inside its US headquarters, reversing a decline in output as chief operating officer at the world’s largest gold mining company. Managing investors is a different task
In Australian mining circles, “Tommy” is well known: his father was one of the best-respected executives at Rio Tinto, where the younger Palmer spent 20 years, leaving when iron ore tanked in 2013. He took on the brief of running Newmont’s Asia Pacific business, including Boddington and the Super Pit, two of Australia's largest gold mines. Squeezing downtime, gold output from his new division rose 20 per cent in his first year. Copper production doubled. Establishing himself as an indispensable lieutenant to Newmont’s polished CEO
Gary Goldberg, Palmer has been rolling-out the same approach across its largest mines, from Ghana to Suriname. He also led a team of 50 on two due diligence missions, scouting-out Goldcorp's mines in Mexico and Argentina, before acquiring the group for $10bn.
With Goldberg due to leave before the end of 2019, that leaves the deal’s success on Palmer’s shoulders. Newmont’s technical teams are sitting on more than 100m-ounces of gold, plus a “prolific portfolio” of mines, Palmer says. But Goldcorp's flagship Penasquito operation in Mexico has been blockaded almost every day since the deal closed, losing 50m pesos per day. With arch-rival Barrick under the leadership of boisterous Mark Bristow, if Palmer looks untested, that won’t be the case for long.
When a rockslide the size of an earthquake hit Rio Tinto's Bingham Canyon copper mine in the US in 2013, it promoted its top troubleshooter, Rob Atkinson, to run the rebuild. Costing $5m per day, the news knocked $1bn off Rio’s earnings and $2bn off its shares, but working round the clock, remote-controlled bulldozers were moving within three days, building 1km of new roads, whilst 20 new trucks were put together onsite. Before the end of the year, Bingham Canyon was producing 8 per cent more copper than before the collapse.
Having studied engineering in Glasgow, Atkinson moved to Queensland as manager of Rio’s Weipa bauxite mine, building an impeccable safety record. In uranium and aluminium, he was charged with fixing-up the group’s thorniest operations, rising to head of productivity, rolling-out driverless trucks and trains in Western Australia. From over 100,000, Rio's workforce has halved to under 50,000 in 10 years.
Whilst Rio Tinto is now run by robots, gold miner Newmont is run by Rio’s former insiders. Carrying ambitious plans to automate its largest mines, from Ghana to the Nevada desert, Atkinson followed Gary Goldberg and Tom Palmer to Newmont in 2019. Robotics are “a reality of modern day life,” he has told MIT Tech Review. “We will remain a very significant employer.”