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CEO Jamie Sokalsky has overseen ‘most radical change’ in gold miner’s history
Jamie Sokalsky is the first to admit he’s not the flashiest guy in the rough and tumble gold mining game. “I’m an accountant, my wife is an accountant, my oldest daughter is an accountant and my youngest daughter is studying to be an accountant,” says the chief executive of Barrick Gold Corp. with a chuckle.
While the mild-mannered 56-year-old likes to downplay his management style as rather dull, Sokalsky has ironically overseen the wildest times in the history of the world’s largest gold miner after taking the helm nearly two years ago.
“Barrick is quite a changed company in the last couple years. We’ve radically changed how we’re running it,” he says in his first sit-down interview since his surprise promotion to CEO in June, 2012.
Indeed, the bullion behemoth – whose mantra for years had been ‘bigger is better’ and growth at all costs – is almost a shadow of itself, having gone from 27 mines across the world to 19 in the last six months alone as it shed almost $1 billion of money-losing assets amid the plummeting gold price.
“We radically changed the philosophy of putting the returns and cash flow above just producing ounces. We’ve transformed the company.”
Formerly Barrick’s chief financial officer who rose through the ranks through 18 years at the Toronto firm, Sokalsky was tapped to replace then-chief executive Aaron Regent after company founder Peter Munk expressed dissatisfaction with the flat share price after 10 years of gains in bullion.
Early speculation was that he was simply a seat-warmer for someone more dynamic to step into the post within a few months. It turned into a hot seat as gold tumbled more than $500 U.S. an ounce and Barrick’s stock went south with it, shaving half its value within Sokalsky’s first year.
The Thunder Bay native stayed in the chair, but didn’t sit still, as shareholders demanded a shakeup on the Munk-controlled board of directors after a jaw-dropping $11.9 million signing bonus was offered to incoming co-chair John Thornton.
“We’ve actually gotten smaller as a company and yet I think it’s been seen as being financially disciplined. We’ve been able to do some things that have been a sea change in the industry,” Sokalsky says.
Though his appointment at first was viewed with skepticism for being a throwback to the old days when the CEO was promoted from within, he says it gave him a leg up when the metals market went haywire.
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