Mr Munk’s greatest gamble was his move into mining when he founded Barrick in 1983. He knew little about the business at the time—just as he had known little about hotels before that. But his ignorance freed him from the assumptions that dominated the industry. It was mostly run by geologists and engineers whose aim was to dig enormous holes with other people’s money, paying little regard to shareholder returns. Gold miners were supposed to be “believers” in gold rather than efficient managers out to maximise profits. “Bullshit,” thought Mr Munk; he soon changed all that. A string of ever-more audacious acquisitions turned Barrick into what was for a while the world’s largest gold miner and is still among the biggest.
Mr Munk also turned out to be a first-rate manager of his growing business empire. He may have been willing to overrule old hands when it came to whether mining should be run by managers or miners—and do it with absolute self-confidence that brooked no question. But he was also willing to delegate operational decisions to experts. Indeed, he explicitly refused to micromanage, to give himself time to think big thoughts.