Peter Munk: turn­ing gold into good

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - News - — RON CSILLAG

If Peter Munk had an ear for busi­ness – and few would doubt he did – it’s be­cause he ac­tu­ally started out sell­ing high-end stereos.

The man who would later be­come a gold-min­ing mag­nate as founder and chair­man of Bar­rick Gold, co-founded Clair­tone Sound Corp. in Toronto in 1956, at a time when sound sys­tems were called “hi-fi’s.” The com­pany made high-end con­soles that in­cluded ra­dios, turnta­bles and, later, tele­vi­sions. In their day, they were rec­og­niz­able and prized.

But mount­ing losses forced Munk and his part­ner out of the com­pany and the duo de­camped for Fiji to in­vest in a ho­tel. They would turn that into the South­ern Pa­cific Ho­tel Corp., which at its peak con­sisted of 54 re­sorts in the South Pa­cific.

He re­turned to Canada in 1979 and formed the pri­vately held Bar­rick Re­sources Corp., which in­vested heav­ily in oil and gas. But af­ter rack­ing up nu­mer­ous losses, Munk de­cided to fo­cus on gold and his com­pany went public on the Toronto Stock Ex­change in May 1983.

Munk never looked back, and Bar­rick Gold Corp. be­came the largest gold-min­ing com­pany in the world, pro­duc­ing 5.5-mil­lion ounces in 2016. He stepped down as CEO in 1998 and to­day serves on the com­pany’s in­ter­na­tional ad­vi­sory board.

He prob­a­bly came clos­est to ful­fill­ing the Jewish im­mi­grant’s dream of liv­ing in the gold­ene me­d­ina (the Promised Land).

Munk, who will turn 90 this Novem­ber, was born in Bu­dapest to well-off Jewish par­ents, Kather­ine Adler and Louis L. Munk. While Munk was still a teenager, the fam­ily fled the Nazi in­va­sion of March 1944 aboard the fa­mous Kast­ner train, which car­ried 1,684 Jews to safety in Switzer­land. It was ar­ranged by Ru­dolf Kast­ner, who was as­sas­si­nated in 1957 in Is­rael, af­ter a court there ac­cused him of hav­ing col­lab­o­rated with the Nazis.

Munk grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Toronto with a de­gree in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing in 1952. The electronics line turned out to be a nat­u­ral en­trance to the busi­ness world.

He was also founder, chair­man and CEO of Trizec Prop­er­ties, which was sold in 2006. Among the com­pany’s vast hold­ings was the in­fa­mous Water­gate Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Munk’s name is now as­so­ci­ated with a host of char­i­ta­ble en­deav­ours. The Peter Munk Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion was founded in 1992 and has since dis­bursed ap­prox­i­mately $100 mil­lion to a va­ri­ety of or­ga­ni­za­tions in the fields of health, ed­u­ca­tion, public pol­icy and the arts.

In 2006, Munk an­nounced that he would donate $37 mil­lion to the Toronto Gen­eral Hospi­tal, the largest gift ever to a Cana­dian med­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion. The do­na­tion would help sup­port the Peter Munk Car­diac Cen­tre, which Munk helped cre­ate with a $6-mil­lion do­na­tion to the hospi­tal in 1997.

In 2010, he ce­mented his rep­u­ta­tion as one of Canada’s fore­most phi­lan­thropists with a $35-mil­lion do­na­tion to the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Af­fairs. The do­na­tion en­abled a dra­matic ex­pan­sion of the Munk Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies that he helped cre­ate a decade ear­lier and funded the cre­ation of the Munk De­bates.

He also do­nated to the Tech­nion-is­rael In­sti­tute for Tech­nol­ogy.

Munk was in­vested in the Or­der of Canada as an of­fi­cer in 1992 and pro­moted to com­pan­ion in 2008 as “one of Canada’s great en­trepreneurs who is equally renowned for his phil­an­thropic work in Canada and abroad.”

Munk loved this coun­try. “He has re­garded be­ing Cana­dian not as a taken-for-granted act of cit­i­zen­ship, but as a badge of hon­our that he had to earn – and then keep on earn­ing,” wrote fel­low Jewish im­mi­grant Peter C. New­man in his book, The Bar­rick Story.

Canada is “a coun­try of peace, law, jus­tice, free­dom and free ed­u­ca­tion,” Munk told the Globe and Mail in 2010. “We have the largest mul­tira­cial so­ci­ety in the world. Canada is as good as it gets.”

As he once told the Cana­dian Club: “I ar­rived in this place not speak­ing the lan­guage, not know­ing a dog.… This is a coun­try that does not ask about your ori­gins, it only con­cerns it­self with your destiny.”

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