Barrick Gold revamping approach to executive pay after shareholder vote

TORONTO – Barrick Gold chairman John Thornton says the miner will revamp its approach to executive compensation after a majority of its shareholders voted thumbs down in a non-binding say-on-pay resolution.

“We have heard you loud and clear,” Thornton told shareholders Tuesday at the company’s annual meeting in Toronto, noting that Brett Harvey, head of the company’s executive compensation committee, has been in talks with major investors.

“We will now take that feedback, we will go back and refine our system, particularly as it relates to me,” Thornton said.

Roughly 75 per cent of the company’s shareholders voted against the executive compensation motion, according to preliminary results.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board said last week it would be voting against Barrick’s plan on executive pay and would withhold its vote for Harvey.

The concerns, raised by other institutional investors, centre on Thornton’s paycheque, which grew to $12.9 million in 2014 from $9.5 million the previous year — all while Barrick’s financial performance weakened.

Corporate governance expert Richard Leblanc says the vote on executive compensation, while non-binding, may act as a form of moral suasion.

Last week, there was another notable say-on-pay vote at the annual general meeting of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Calgary (TSX:CM).

Shareholders shot down the bank’s approach to executive compensation, with nearly 57 per cent of shares cast against. It was the first time such a vote has gone that way at a major Canadian financial institution.

At issue were rich payouts to the bank’s former chief executive officer and chief operating officer — $25 million between the two of them, on top of their existing pensions.

Leblanc, an associate professor of law, governance and ethics at York University, said he’s happy to see big shareholders adopt “less of a Canadian, old-school, genteel mentality” and speak up.

“I think what CIBC and Barrick say is that investors are becoming less accepting and less tolerant,” said Leblanc. “This is long overdue in Canada.”

Meanwhile, Barrick said it’s looking to sell a stake in the Zaldivar copper mine in Chile — a “consistently strong performer in the world’s best jurisdiction for copper mining.”

Potential buyers have “expressed strong interest” in taking a stake in the mine, it said.

As well, the miner says it’s on track to achieve its target of $30 million in savings from reduced general, administrative and overhead costs in 2015, reaching $70 million in annualized savings in 2016.

The gold miner also outlined a number of measures it is undertaking in an attempt to transform itself into a leaner, more profitable company.

Thornton said the company has launched reviews of all of its mines to gauge their performance and determine which ones to put up for sale. Selling some of its non-core assets could free up the company’s cash flow and help it pay off its debt.

Co-president Kelvin Dushnisky said Barrick hopes to return to its past as a nimble, entrepreneurial company with minimal bureaucracy by “unclogging the arteries.”

The company recently trimmed headcount at its head office to 140 employees, from 260.

In the first quarter of 2015, Barrick had US$57 million of net income and US$62 million or adjusted net earnings, down from $88 million of net income and US$238 million of adjusted net earnings a year earlier, the company reported Monday.

Adjusted earnings were five cents below the estimate of 10 cents per share and net income was a penny below the estimate of six cents per share, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters.

— With files from Lauren Krugel

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