CORRECTED-NEWSMAKER-Munk's well-connected successor looks to fix Barrick

Tue Dec 3, 2013 9:48am EST
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(Corrects to million, not billion, in tenth paragraph)

By Nicole Mordant and Allison Martell

Dec 3 (Reuters) - Soon after he joined Barrick Gold Corp's board last year, John Thornton, the designated successor to founder and chairman Peter Munk, took a company team to visit Ford Motor Co and learn about the automaker's turnaround story.

Ford, where Thornton has been a director since 1996, and its Detroit peers were on the skids just four years ago. But now the automaker is posting record earnings after a major overhaul of its costs and products.

The expedition to Ford may offer a glimpse into what the former Goldman Sachs Inc second-in-command thinks is needed at Barrick, the world's biggest gold producer, as it faces a host of challenges amid a diminished outlook for the mining industry.

The 59-year-old American, a China hand who is expected to become sole chairman at Toronto-based Barrick by next spring, takes charge at a time when sentiment has soured on the mining sector after cost overruns and a sinking gold price. Observers say he could shore up Barrick by allying it with powerful investors in China.

Munk, a controversial figure who many say holds too much sway in the Barrick boardroom, picked Thornton as his co-chairman and successor, and the pair have worked closely for more than a year.

Barrick has underperformed many of its peers so far this year. Its shares are languishing near 21-year lows, hurt also by market dissatisfaction with the company's governance and corporate missteps that include ballooning costs at its Pascua-Lama project in the Andes and a disappointing copper mine purchase in 2011.

"The whole industry is going through a pretty radical rethink about their strategy," said Goldman Sachs Vice-Chairman Michael Evans. He said China is the key strategic consideration not just for Barrick but for the entire industry.   Continued...