Robert M. Smith, in a career characterized by professionalism, integrity, and compassion, was a seminal force in the revival of the North American gold industry in the 1980s. His quiet fortitude and rock-solid integrity were an inspiration to all who knew him. His ability to motivate employees was legendary. His effect on the industry was indelible.
As President of Barrick Gold Corporation from 1987 to 1996 and Vice Chairman thereafter, Bob Smith helped build Barrick Gold into one of the most respected gold companies in the world. He provided the leadership that translated the vision of Peter Munk, Barrick’s founder and Chairman, into reality.
Among Bob Smith’s accomplishments, none is more remarkable than his development of the Goldstrike property in Nevada into the most prolific gold producer in North America. After playing a key role in Barrick’s acquisition of Goldstrike in 1986, Bob led the team that built the property into a model of modern gold mining at its best, not only in terms of production but also in terms of social and environmental responsibility. Bob oversaw Goldstrike’s growth from a small outfit mining about 40,000 ounces of gold per year into a world-class mine, producing more than 2 million ounces of low-cost gold annually. This took plenty of capital and tireless innovation, including the pioneering of large-scale autoclaving, which boosted recovery of gold from refractory Goldstrike ores to 90% from 30%.
Bob also carried out the rapid revitalization of newly acquired Barrick properties, such as the Mercur Mine in Utah. He developed new mines, including the Holt-McDermott Mine in Ontario and the Meikle Mine at Goldstrike, which became the largest producing underground gold mine in North America.
Bob grew up in Haileybury, in the heart of Ontario’s silver mining country. As a youth, he spent his summers prospecting, without striking it rich. In 1956, he graduated with a degree in mining engineering from the University of Toronto. Thereafter, he worked jobs of increasing responsibility for Denison Mines, The Iron Ore Company of Canada, Canadian Bechtel Limited, Consolidated Morrison Explorations Limited, and Camflo Mines Limited. When Barrick acquired Camflo in 1984, Bob became Barrick’s Chief Operating Officer. He was promoted to President in 1987.
Bob Smith’s contributions to mining reached beyond his remarkable leadership in mine development. He was a central figure in the U.S. gold industry, serving as Chairman of the Gold Institute and as a Director of the National Mining Association.
When Bob Smith died in 1998 after a battle with cancer, people from all levels in the mining industry, from the pit-face to the boardroom, mourned the loss of a man of rare quality. Bob Smith’s contribution to mining in the United States and Canada is an enduring one, equaled only by his legacy of friendship and wise counsel for the benefit of others.