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1927 - 2018

Peter Munk

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of our Founder, Peter Munk, the iconic Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist. He was 90.

Munk founded his most significant venture, Barrick Gold Corp., in 1983 and built it into the world’s largest gold mining company in less than twenty-five years. He did so by leading a small team of partners who trusted one another implicitly and who together balanced boldness and prudence in the pursuit of fierce entrepreneurial ambitions. Having come to the industry as an outsider, Munk defied its conventions and implemented an innovative hedging program that helped to propel Barrick to success. As the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, which inducted Munk into its ranks in 2002, noted: “He transformed the industry that made him a titan into something it had never been before—a financially sophisticated business able to compete with other industries for investment capital.”

[This tribute to Peter Munk has appeared in major publications.]

One of Canada’s most significant philanthropists, Munk donated nearly $300 million to causes and institutions that were close to his heart. With his wife, Melanie, he established the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the Toronto General Hospital in 1997. Munk donated more than $175 million to the institution, including a $100 million contribution in 2017 that remains the largest single gift ever made to a Canadian hospital. It has become Canada’s premier cardiac centre, treating approximately 163,000 patients a year. To his alma mater, the University of Toronto, Munk gave $47 million to create what has become Canada’s preeminent degree-granting institution for the research and study of global affairs, the Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2008, he founded The Munk Debates, which quickly became Canada’s most important public policy debate series, bringing the world’s brightest minds together to debate the biggest issues of our time.

Peter Munk is named a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor, by Governor General Michaëlle Jean in 2008.

For his leadership as an entrepreneur and philanthropist, Munk received numerous awards and honors, including honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto, Concordia University, Bishop’s University, and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. In 2008, he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor, limited to no more than 165 living Canadians at any one time, which he cherished. In 2017, he was among 18 global business leaders chosen to be included on the New York Stock Exchange Wall of Innovators, alongside Warren Buffett, Jamie Dimon and Jack Ma. In a remark that captured the two leading pursuits of his life—business and philanthropy—Munk noted: “You can create wealth. You are entitled to the joy of this creation. But ultimately society makes it possible, and this wealth should flow back to society.”

Peter Munk was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Budapest in 1927. When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944, he escaped with his family to Switzerland on the Kastner train, ultimately arriving in Toronto in 1948 at the age of 20 with nothing but a small suitcase. An immigrant with neither social connections nor a command of English, Munk nevertheless felt welcomed by Canadians, and he would go on to profess a lifelong love of his adoptive country. He insisted throughout his tenure as Barrick’s Chairman that the company remain headquartered in Toronto. In 2011, he remarked, “Canada’s inclusiveness is vital: it is a characteristic of overwhelming value and importance and distinguishes Canadians from anybody else. This is a country that does not ask about your origins but concerns itself with your destiny.”

While his loyalties were national, his ambitions were global. He pursued them with audacious vision and a relentless internal drive that would become his trademarks. He started his first company while he was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, employing fellow students to sell Christmas trees outside 17 Toronto supermarkets. After graduating from the University with a degree in Electrical Engineering, he formally entered business in 1957 with $3,000 from his then father-in-law, William Jay Gutterson. Peter Munk Associates built custom-made hi-fi sets for wealthy clients and within a year, in partnership with David Gilmour, was reborn as Clairtone Sound Corporation. Combining mid-century Scandinavian design with high-end stereo manufacture, Clairtone’s stereo consoles became immensely popular, won design awards, and gained endorsements from Frank Sinatra and Oscar Peterson. Soon, however, the company grew too big too quickly, and eventually collapsed. The experience was pure Munk, only doubly so: spurred by a rapturous desire to pursue what seemed impossible, yet in its very failure raising that desire to even greater heights of sweet ache. “Clairtone was my first love,” he told author Peter Newman. “It was my first infatuation with the romance of business. It was unrequited, it was immensely uncompleted, and that’s why it made such a major impression on me. But it was an experience that formed the foundation of everything that I have accomplished in my life.”

Upon that foundation, Munk went on to build a hotel empire in the South Pacific, create a highly profitable real estate investment trust, and pursue new ventures in oil and gas. No matter the business, he was known and admired for his signature panache, an incisive strategic mind, and an abiding respect for people from every station.

In his third and most illustrious act, Munk turned to gold. Beginning in 1983 with modest investments in two small mines in Ontario and Québec, he and his partners, including Bob Smith, the legendary mining engineer, grew Barrick into the world’s largest gold miner in less than a quarter century. As the journalist Nina Munk wrote of her father: “The more impossible the situation, the more single-minded he becomes.” In Munk’s own words, Barrick is “a miracle not to be repeated. It will go down in the annals of business history.”

Peter Munk, Bob Smith, and Dr. Brian Meikle, overlooking the Betze-Post pit in 1992 at Goldstrike—the property that had such a profound effect on Barrick’s progress.

Munk is survived by Melanie, his wife of forty-five years; by his children, Anthony, Nina, Marc-David, Natalie, and Cheyne; and by his fourteen grandchildren.

His memory lives on with more than 10,000 Barrick employees on five continents, as well as the countless individuals and communities he touched through his philanthropy in Canada and around the world.

A $100 million contribution in 2017 from Melanie and Peter Munk (seated) to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the Toronto General Hospital is the largest single gift ever made to a Canadian hospital.

Reflections on Peter Munk

Peter Munk was a man of uncommon talents and accomplishments. He marked the life of Canada as few others have. An immigrant to Canada, Peter acquired a deep and abiding love for his adopted country, and always credited this nation for his success. But Peter repaid his beloved Canada many times over with his remarkable success in business, his outstanding community leadership, and his brilliant philanthropic contributions to universities, institutes and hospitals, both in Toronto and across the country. For those of us who knew him, Peter shall always remain unforgettable because of his brilliance, charm, loyalty, and unending acts of personal kindness. Although he began his life in Canada with very little, Peter ends his stay on earth as a Canadian icon, admired and revered for his outstanding success in business and leadership that benefited this country in so many important ways.

The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney
18th Prime Minister of Canada
This is a very sad day for Barrick, for the Munk family, and for Canada. We have lost an iconic entrepreneur, a visionary philanthropist, and a caring friend. Thirty-four years ago, when he could have easily retired from a successful career in business, Peter Munk started a gold mining company that would soon become the largest in the world. Barrick’s meteoric rise stemmed from its values, which were direct expressions of Peter’s character: a deep commitment to partnership; a balance of boldness and prudence; and distinctive excellence in everything the company does. Those values are enduring, and his passing calls us to rededicate ourselves to them even more faithfully. One value ran more deeply with Peter than all others, and that was the value of giving. He was a human being first, a businessman second, and an owner and leader of a company third. The boy who escaped the Nazis with his family grew into a man who shared his good fortune wherever he went, and in the most thoughtful, distinctive, and consequential ways. Peter Munk was awake to certain fundamental truths: that we are all inextricably interconnected; that no one thrives alone; that we receive the most when we give. Our hearts break that he is gone. In his memory and by his example, they also grow softer and more resolute in the continued pursuit of the excellence, goodness, and love that flowed from him.

John L. Thornton
Executive Chairman, Barrick
I worked with and for Peter for almost 50 years. He was an exceptional entrepreneur and an inspirational leader. Above all he was my mentor, a close friend, and a truly great human being.

William Birchall
Former Vice Chairman and Director, Barrick

Barrick debuts on the New York Stock Exchange in 1987. William Birchall is center left, beside Peter Munk and Bob Smith.

When I joined Barrick in 2002, the company was in the news on an almost daily basis. Words like innovative, entrepreneurial, instinctive, agile and astute were used regularly to describe the company. They could just as easily have been talking about Peter Munk himself, and, in many ways they were. Barrick is, after all, an extension of Peter's personality. For more than a decade until Peter’s retirement, I had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, a living legend. It was a master class. I saw first hand how Peter engaged and built lasting relationships with everyone from Presidents and Prime Ministers to his business peers and employees right across Barrick, he treated everyone with respect, and was always true to his word. No matter how busy he was he would always make time to write personal notes to the people he had met, whether it was a head of state or someone who had attracted his attention at a Barrick mine. It is not uncommon to see framed notes from Peter hanging on the walls of Barrick sites around the world. While he was born in Hungary, Peter was fiercely proud and loyal to his adopted country of Canada. He was a Canadian business icon, a true original and innovator who I was so very lucky to call a mentor, colleague and friend. I will miss him dearly.

Kelvin Dushnisky
President, Barrick
Peter Munk had an infectious and unbridled enthusiasm for everything he did. From the day we met at a little restaurant in Toronto over 60 years ago, until the moment we moved forward as friends and partners, there was always an intense desire that amounted to a mission to build a creative and winning way to success. As a consequence, we had a highly motivated entrepreneurial partnership, with our different skills complementing each other. Peter Munk became an iconic Canadian business leader and his perception of the future was powered by his confidence in himself and his own life experiences. He arrived in Canada as a penniless immigrant teenager, and then embraced Canada with a spectacular enthusiasm that exceeded that of many Canadians who were born in the country. That spirit never lost its drive and resulted in a legacy that will be difficult to equal in Canadian history. Peter had an unusual ability to rise with matchless energy to the many crisis situations that he encountered during a dynamic career. He had a ferocious sense of loyalty for friendships that knew no bounds, and he took a great interest in people from all walks of life that he encountered along the road to his success. Life with Peter was always fun. People, and especially the ladies in our lives, were always amazed at our telephone conversations which were always punctuated with phrases such as, “but my love” and “darling don't you understand?” We had the most extraordinary relationship. After a couple of trial runs, we never went on holiday together again. We spent almost the entire holiday pacing up and down, developing our new ideas as if no one else in the world existed. Hail to Peter Munk with love and great memories that I will always treasure and will never be forgotten.

David Gilmour
Co-Founder, Clairtone
Peter Munk was a spellbinding orator who branded our upstart company with his entrepreneurial spirit. Building a Canadian business champion is his legacy, and Barrick is proof of Peter’s conviction that in Canada, all dreams are possible. His humanity and generosity has helped all of us at Barrick to educate our children while sharing fully in the success we celebrate in his memory. I will miss him greatly.

Bill Gray
Creative Director, Barrick, since 1991
Peter Munk has been one of the most interesting people I have had the opportunity to know. His character, his vitality, and his extraordinary will gave to him its own personality of one of the great creators and great founders. I had the great fortune to know him, respect him, and admire him. I want to send my sincerely condolences to his dear wife and all his family, and of course to all of the great Barrick family.

Jose Maria Aznar
Former President of the Government of Spain
I will remember Peter Munk, first and foremost, for his immense entrepreneurial spirit, his great intellect, and his vast generosity. Peter was one-of-a-kind, inimitable. He was deeply engaged with everyone in his orbit and was an admired mentor and a most valued friend to many. Wherever he went, it was important for Peter to represent Canada’s best values. Indeed, he was a most proud and effective ambassador. I feel fortunate to have counted Peter as a friend for so many years. As much as he will be missed, may his life serve as inspiration for all of us, to strive for purposefulness, meaningfulness, kindness and excellence.

Gustavo Cisneros
Director, Barrick & Chairman, Cisneros Group of Companies

Peter and Melanie Munk

Mr. Munk has provided unwavering support for the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PLCC), which he created in 1993 with the singular vision of being the top heart Centre in the world. On many occasions, he urged me to focus and to be the best at what we do. Peter Munk often spoke of the PMCC as an investment in Canada that allowed him to give back to the country that gave him everything. Peter Munk frequently told me that he derived the most joy and satisfaction from people that would stop him on the street, ask if he was Peter Munk, and when he said “Yes”, they went on to thank him for saving their mother or father or other family member's life through the care that was provided at the PMCC. I will miss his wisdom, guidance, charm and wit, and the way in which he treated everyone he met with dignity and respect. Mr. Munk's constant insistence for excellence will continue to be the inspiration to all of us at the PMCC.

Dr. Barry Rubin
Medical Director, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre
After my parents, Peter Munk has been the most influential person in my life, both professionally and personally. I first met him when I was sixteen, and after university he arranged for me to work at a company where I could gain some experience. When I was ready, he brought me to Barrick. He said to me, “Sink or swim—it’s up to you now.” It was the most generous thing he could have done: give me the autonomy to claim my abilities for myself. My story is not exceptional: Peter’s great humanity and generosity lay in his understanding that he could empower himself only by authentically empowering others. Whether it was colleagues, communities, schools, hospitals, or his beloved country of Canada—it was all the same: he rose by lifting up everyone around him, and the higher he got, the more he helped others rise too. To me, that is the deepest and richest way in which I understand the culture of partnership that he fostered at Barrick and beyond. Peter was a visionary and a man of strong virtue. He was incredibly passionate about the things he believed in, and he worked tirelessly to bring them to life. He was honest and direct, which I was always the better for. He pushed people to be their best, to challenge conventions, and to meet adversity with guts and determination. He was boundlessly generous, endlessly giving of himself to his family and his friends. Peter, I am blessed to have learned from you, and to have called you a friend for the past thirty-two years. Thank you. You live on in all of our hearts, which are all the softer and stronger for having known you.

Kathy Sipos
Chief of Staff, Barrick
Peter Munk says that “the University of Toronto is what made me a Canadian.” As a student putting himself through university, and then upon graduation in 1952, he held a series of jobs that connected him with Canada up close, from clearing forests for hydro lines to working in the mail system. As he put it, “I just fell in love with the country.” Peter also came to believe that Canadians embodied values like openness and integrity that the world needed. The creation of the Munk School of Global Affairs was Peter’s effort to take those Canadian values, and to help train generations of leaders to promote them on the world stage. Peter and Melanie gave a remarkable $51 million to the University of Toronto to build the School. The vision was to create a new kind of teaching, research, and public education hub not bound to the power structures of the past, that explores the complex interplay of public, private and NGO sectors, and that takes up concrete issues of our world, becoming a unique place to figure out the future. A “Canadian by heart and soul” but whose businesses were global in ambition and scale, Peter’s creation of the Munk School is a tremendous gift back to the people of the country he so loved.

Steven Toope
Vice Chancellor, University of Cambridge
Former Director, Munk School of Global Affairs
I worked with Peter Munk without a break for very nearly fifty years. It was a wonderful journey. His drive and business vision was remarkable, but so was his humanity and interest in every aspect of my life. He was above all else a friend, and no one was more loyal to his friends than Peter. His passing has left a void that no one else can ever fill.

David Wynne-Morgan
Friend and colleague of 50 years
Former Board Member, Horsham Corporation
From our first meeting I knew this would be an amazing adventure. Peter Munk could see tipping points in business, politics and society. He was an amazing collector of people; and had a contact list that a head of state would envy. Time zones and geography never confined him. Once you were in his circle, you were “on call” for life. Charm is a quality rarely deployed in modern business, let alone in politics, but Mr. Munk understood its incredible power. He went out of his way to simply charm everyone he met. It was magical to watch. Behind that persuasive charm was a business leader who took bold and brave leaps forward, not timid measured steps. He cared deeply about our employees and their communities. He, or his trusted partner Bill Birchall, would regularly reach out to me to take measure. He was practicing Corporate Social Responsibility before we had a term for it. My personal bond with him was forged early. We were facing an adverse issue in the Senate and right in the middle of corralling the votes, my grandmother passed away. I had to deal with her funeral while winning the vote. A few weeks later I received a call from my grandmother’s Methodist Church in Hopedale, Ohio. They had received a significant donation in her memory and no one there recognized the donor. It was a Mr. Peter Munk of Toronto, Canada.

Michael Brown
President, Barrick U.S.A.

Peter Munk speaks to guests at Barrick’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2008.