The young president of the largest gold mining company in the world, EY alum Aaron Regent sees an opportunity — and an obligation — to help others.
Mention gold in Canada and you are likely to hear about the country’s Olympic hockey team champions.
But to Ernst & Young alum Aaron Regent, gold — as in the precious metal — well, that’s his stock and trade. At age 44, Regent is President and CEO of Toronto-based Barrick Gold, the world’s leading gold producer.
Born in Ireland and raised in Alberta, Canada, Regent joined the Ernst & Young Toronto office in 1988. “There were about 120 of us new graduates. Most of us were fresh out of school and new to the city. We were working and studying hard to pass our CA exam, but we also had a lot of fun and great camaraderie.” In fact, Regent says some of his closest friends today are his former Ernst & Young colleagues.
About three years later, Regent learned that one of the firm’s clients, Brookfield Asset Management, was looking for an associate controller. Regent approached Ernst & Young partner Barry Rowland who introduced Regent to Brookfield’s senior vice president and controller, Ed Kress, who just happens to also be an Ernst & Young alum. Regent ultimately got the job in 1991 and within three years was promoted to CFO.
Twists and turns
Over the next ten years Regent would navigate through a number of executive-level positions within the Brookfield Group of companies. This includes a merger that briefly took him beyond the Brookfield “family,” as well as an international takeover battle that resulted in the largest transaction in the history of the mining industry. It was during this time that Regent was introduced to the art and science of mining, something he found he “thoroughly enjoyed.” In 2000, he was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 and in 2005 as one of the country’s Top 40 Over the Past Ten Years. In 2006, Regent rejoined Brookfield as co-CEO of its Infrastructure Group.
Looking back, Regent says, “It was a challenging and interesting journey,” but he also notes the wonderful mentors, committed teams and learning experiences he encountered along the way.
In January 2009, seeing “a great opportunity” to return to an industry he enjoyed, Regent joined Barrick Gold as President and CEO. At that time the company’s stock (ABX) just reached the number one spot by market capitalization on the Toronto Stock Exchange; it remains in the top 10 to this day.
Largest equity offering
Upon assuming Barrick’s leadership, Regent acted quickly to address the company’s hedge book, where gold is sold at fixed prices through pre-arranged contracts, rather than the market price at the time of sale. With the gold price per ounce at historic highs, and a widely held consensus that the price environment was favorable to moving even higher, Regent eliminated Barrick’s gold hedges through a US$4 billion equity offering. Announced in September 2009 and completed by Q4, 2009, it was the largest Canadian equity offering ever brought to market, the largest gold equity offering and the largest bought deal globally and gave Barrick full leverage to gold prices.
Production — at a glance
With 26 working mines on five continents, in 2009 Barrick produced 7.4 million ounces of gold — the most of any mining company. (As of this writing, gold was trading for over US$1,100 an ounce). Also in 2009, Barrick produced 393 million pounds of copper.
In the mining business, what’s in the pipeline is just as important as what you are producing currently. Over the next few years, Barrick will begin operating a number of “next generation” mines, including three of its most advanced (i.e., lower cost) projects: Pascua-Lama (straddling the border between Chile and Argentina), Cortez Hills (Nevada) and Pueblo Viejo (Dominican Republic)
Mining their own business…and others’
“The great thing about our industry,” says Regent, “is that, while enjoying the commercial side of business, we can also have a profound and positive impact on the communities where we operate.” (Frequently, these communities are located in third-world and developing countries.) For example, Regent notes that the income and economic activity generated by mining frequently create much-needed jobs, improve education and health care programs and provide significant investment in local and country infrastructure. In addition, Regent is committed to making Barrick an industry leader in terms of social and environmental responsibility. As evidence of this commitment, in 2009 Dow Jones named Barrick to its world-wide Sustainability Index for the second consecutive year, and to the North American Sustainability Index for the third year in a row. “This is all part of what becomes our legacy,” adds Regent.
A moral responsibility
Personally, Regent gives back through his service to the SickKids Hospital of Toronto, where he serves on the board of directors of the SickKids Foundation. He is also a director of the C. D. Howe Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that aims to improve Canadians’ standard of living by fostering sound economic and social policy. Regent adheres to the philosophy that those who are able have a “moral responsibility to support and improve the broader community.” And “at the risk of sounding cliché,” he says he firmly believes that the more you put into community involvement, the more you get out of it: “Getting involved provides a different, wider perspective on life that can be eye opening, inspiring — and always rewarding.”
When not travelling the globe for Barrick, Regent enjoys spending time with his wife, Heather, and his three young daughters. In fact, he says his greatest thrill in life is watching his girls grow, learn and experience new things. While gold plays a central role in Aaron Regent’s life, it’s his family, he says, that’s truly most precious.