John Thornton is a Goldman Sachs alumnus educated at Yale, Harvard and Oxford. Mark Bristow is a South African geologist and big-game hunter. Together, this corporate odd couple has a plan to turn around the lagging fortunes of the world’s largest gold-mining company, whose shares are down 67 percent from their high in 2010.
Thornton, executive chairman of Barrick Gold Corp., set the partnership in motion when he announced a deal for smaller rival Randgold Resources Ltd. for $5.4 billion in September. He tapped Bristow, Randgold’s chief executive officer, to be the CEO of the combined companies.
Thornton is getting a maverick, but also a CEO whose company’s share price has gained about 5,300 percent since the end of 1999, making it the best-performing stock in London’s FTSE 100 Index this century.
The two senior executives, who declined to be interviewed for this story, need to improve the quality of Barrick’s mine portfolio by wading into some of the world’s riskiest jurisdictions while keeping an iron grip on costs. If their strategy succeeds, it could become a model for the beleaguered $100 billion gold mining industry, according to Joe Foster, a New York-based portfolio manager at Barrick’s largest shareholder, VanEck Associates Corp.
“The risk and the opportunity here is imposing the financial discipline, exploration methods and management style of a regional gold company — Randgold — on the largest gold company in the world,” Foster says.
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