Incoming Newmont CEO is an honest-to-goodness miner – by Dorothy Kosich ( – December 4, 2012)

A major North American mining company announced Monday it will actually appoint a mining engineer as CEO, shattering years of CFO, lawyers, and investment banker promotions to the top spot.

RENO (MINEWEB) – With the announced promotion of Newmont President COO Gary Goldberg to President and CEO, Newmont returns to a mine operator in the top job for the first time since South African Gordon Parker was named CEO in 1986.

Could the promotion of Goldberg, who joined Newmont in December last year from Rio Tinto, to the CEO’s post be a sign that Wall Street and mining’s love affair with non-technical mining types, such as CFOs, attorneys and investment bankers as mining company CEOs, be drawing to a close?

This reporter was born in Nevada during the era of one of Newmont’s finest CEOs, metallurgist Plato Malozemoff, who occupied the top spot for an unprecedented three decades. Some of the biggest names in mining would become part of Newmont’s portfolio during his tenure as Newmont expanded around the world.

Malozemoff and Newmont geologists John Livermore and J. Alan Coope would usher in the era of the submicroscopic, disseminated gold with the Carlin Trend discovery that would revolutionize gold mining.

Wayne Murdy, appointed CEO in 2000, and Pierre Lassonde, named Newmont president in 2002, stressed sustainability, social responsibility, and license to operate in local communities during their tenures. The duo would also usher in an era of transparency, openness and a level of press availability, which this reporter has not experienced before or since within the Newmont organization.

However, Newmont’s new reputation for environmental excellence was tarnished when the company’s PT Newmont Minahasa Raya was accused of poisoning the waters of Indonesia’s Buyat Bay through the company’s practice of subsea tailings disposal in 2004. Though cleared of the accusations in the end, the company’s reputation suffered for several years.

Ill health prompted Murdy’s retirement in 2006 and Lassonde was aching to move on from Newmont’s slow-moving bureaucracy back to the entrepreneurial mining model.

They were succeeded by Richard O’Brien, a former utility company executive who had been brought in as CFO of Newmont in 2005. He had also held executive positions in energy, power and natural resource companies.

O’Brien’s promotion to the CEO’s spot prompted a handful of top Newmont executives—who had been told by Newmont that they would be seriously considered for the top job—to leave the company, creating an operational skills gap at top management level that would prove a major stumbling block to the O’Brien administration.

In 2007, O’Brien found himself participating in the planning and implementation of mining projects, specifically Nevada mining operations such as the troubled Phoenix copper-gold operation and the Midas complex, which had been shuttered for several months after a fatality. Lacking that operating officer whose strengths would complement his own, it took two years for O’Brien to turn Newmont around.

Among O’Brien’s other Newmont successes are the purchase of Fronteer Gold and the Long Canyon gold project, which has many Nevada precious metals geologists dreaming of rich new gold deposits beyond the traditional Carlin Trend.

However, at times, O’Brien appeared not to favor the openness and transparency of the Murdy/Lassonde era. For instance, several requests by this reporter to interview O’Brien were never realized over the past five years.

Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding the Minas Conga project in Peru erupted into violence this year, generating multiple protests that paralyzed the region at times and forced the government of Peru to halt the project until cooler heads prevailed.

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