Departing Barrick Chairman Munk defends successor Thornton

Wed Apr 30, 2014 2:26pm EDT
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By Allison Martell and Euan Rocha and Nicole Mordant

TORONTO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Outgoing Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO: Quote) (ABX.N: Quote) founder and Chairman Peter Munk gave a spirited defense of his replacement, John Thornton, on Wednesday days after his successor was lambasted by a rival gold company and investors criticized his pay package.

In a farewell speech to the company he founded 31 years ago, Munk told shareholders at Barrick's annual meeting in Toronto that he is certain that Thornton is "the right guy" to take over as chairman of the world's biggest gold company.

"John Thornton, in my opinion, was going to be the very best investment in my 32 year legacy," said Munk, 86, who founded Barrick in 1983 and built it into the world's top gold miner with an aggressive string of acquisitions.

"That includes Goldstrike, and that wasn't exactly a bad one," he added, referring to the Nevada mine that was one of his earliest acquisitions and helped to build Barrick into a top gold producer.

On Monday, the chairman of Newmont Mining Corp (NEM.N: Quote), Vincent Calarco, slammed Thornton, saying that while the Denver-based miner's team found recent talks with Barrick's management constructive, the same could not be said of discussions with Thornton.

Calarco's comments came after failed merger talks between Barrick and Newmont, with the world's two largest gold miners publicly accusing each other of scuppering a deal favored by some investors.

Munk did not directly discuss Calarco's comments but said he had been "hurt and confused" a year ago by shareholder outrage at Thornton's $11.9 million signing bonus.

Thornton, 60, a former second-in-command at Goldman Sachs Inc (GS.N: Quote) and regarded as an expert on China, was hand-picked by Munk as his successor, and named Barrick co-chair in June 2012.   Continued...

Outgoing Barrick Gold Chairman Peter Munk waves at the annual general meeting in Toronto, April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch