Former Barrick CEO Greg Wilkins dies


By Peter Koven
National Post / Financial Post, Toronto
Thursday, December 17, 2009

Greg Wilkins, the former chief executive of Barrick Gold Corp. and a leader in Canadian business, passed away on Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 53.

Mr. Wilkins, a chartered accountant by training, joined Barrick in 1981 before it entered the gold business. He will be remembered as one of the key people that transformed it from a startup gold company into the world's biggest in less than a quarter century.

Alongside entrepreneur Peter Munk, Mr. Wilkins led a number of aggressive acquisitions that made Barrick a world leader. Today, the Toronto-based company has a market value of $41.5-billion and has 26 operating mines around the world.

In the 1990s, Mr. Wilkins left Barrick to take a senior management job at Horsham Corp., which later became TrizecHahn Corp.

But in 2003, when the company's performance was flagging, he returned to the fold and took over as chief executive for the first time. As CEO, he spent a great deal of time studying the company and determining a vision for the future.

"It is now much bigger than when I left with many more people. Top off all that with the fact that the challenges of running a public company have really changed," he told the Financial Post at the time.

"It is a great company with great bones, but it was tired. Creating enthusiasm at the company is my number one priority."

He would soon do just that.

In 2005, he spearheaded Barrick's most ambitious move ever: the US$10.4-billion takeover of longtime rival Placer Dome Inc. that vaulted the company into the top spot in the gold industry. The transaction started as a bold hostile bid, but later turned friendly after Barrick raised its offer.

Barrick has been praised for the seamless integration of Placer, and the timing of the timing of the transaction could not have been better. When the deal was first struck, gold prices were under US$600 an ounce. Since then they have more than doubled.

In March 2008, Mr. Wilkins was forced to leave the job to deal with his illness. Mr. Munk took over as CEO on a temporary basis, and eventually named Aaron Regent as the permanent replacement in December.

"This is the loss of a dear friend who played a vital role in Barrick's growth," Mr. Munk said in a statement. "He worked alongside me building Barrick for almost 30 years. He literally personified the values that guide our decisions at Barrick day by day. He was a leader who listened. He possessed an entrepreneurial spirit and an analytical mind. He produced results from considered decisions. Greg inspired confidence and respect in me, in our shareholders, in his colleagues, in everyone who met him."

Mr. Wilkins remained with the company as executive vice chairman and a board member after departing as CEO. He was also an independent director at Magna International Corp. before stepping down this year.

Mr. Wilkins is survived by his wife, Vera, and children Mark and Lauren.

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