Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2019

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Q+A: Mining executive shares industry insights gleaned over decades

61st Annual Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum

Steve Marcus

Michael Brown, president of Barrick Gold USA, moderates a discussion during the 61st annual Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017.

In more than 25 years in the mining industry, Michael Brown says that as he retires, his proudest moment was bringing his company to Southern Nevada.

Brown joined Barrick Gold Corp. in 1994 as the vice president of government affairs and is retiring as president by the end of the year. He shared some of his thoughts on the industry and the future with the Sun. His comments have been lightly edited for grammar and style.

What do you think are some of the key ways your work at Barrick helped bring the mining industry and state government closer together?

Starting in 2012, I shifted Barrick from “random acts of good deeds” to focused corporate social responsibility. It meant aligning the company with Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Legislature’s priorities, to help address the high school dropout rate and to advance economic diversification. That led to partnerships with Communities in Schools and Three Square Food Bank, and we used Barrick’s global status to help Steve Hill with economic development. Today we have evolved from helping to leading in areas of education, economic development, social justice and the arts. I sought to build a strong trust with policymakers and prove to them that Barrick cared about all Nevada. Make no mistake, our success is ultimately tied to Nevada’s success.

Why is it important to maintain that relationship between government and mining?

To mine and develop the minerals, we have to sustain what they call a “social license to operate.” That is an informal, and sometimes formal, bond with stakeholders that we will be responsible stewards of the environment, that we will share our success with our communities, and assure the safety and economic well-being of our employees.

Nevada took progressive steps in the late 1980s to enact a reclamation law and other measures to regulate modern mining. While it might have been bitter to that generation of miner, Gov. Bob Miller, Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Richard Bryan set us on a path for success. I am pleased to have played a role in strengthening those programs, such as the mercury emissions reduction program in 2005 and with the sage grouse in 2016. I joined Jim Murren and Elaine Wynn to step forward and support the national monuments at Basin and Range and Gold Butte. It was the right thing to do.

My views of government were shaped by the late Elliot Richardson, who believed that public service is public trust. The highest obligation of every individual in government is to fulfill that trust. Business leaders have to respect that obligation and to provide government leaders with policy options that serve the public interest and sustain public trust.

What do you see as one of your most lasting impacts on the industry?

I brought Barrick, and by extension mining, to Southern Nevada with the opening of our global technology office in Henderson on Sept. 25, 2015. That was my proudest day. I had a vision, now fulfilled, of Barrick becoming one of the dozen foundational companies in Nevada, not just mines in Elko. I still get a thrill when I see the Barrick sign from the freeway in Henderson.

My saddest day was the Oct. 1 shooting and the week that followed. I had just arrived in Washington, D.C., and I started to get texts from Missy Young about the terrible shooting. I raced back to Las Vegas to learn we had one employee wounded and one contractor killed. For a small office like ours, that was a major impact. It was a long week. We did a complete stand-down of our 3,600 employees across our mining operations for a moment of silence. I still have the yellow ribbon from Neysa Tonks’ funeral service. It’s a daily reminder that life is precious and we should make the most of each day.

How do you think the industry needs to prepare for the future?

House Speaker Tip O’Neill said it best: “All politics is local.” This state is continuing to become young, diverse and urban. I have seen the evolution of Nevada from red, to purple to blue. The industry cannot isolate itself in Elko. One of the projects that will succeed me is linking the expertise at Brookings Mountain West with leadership in Elko. MGM and Barrick have been major underwriters of this incredible think tank and we want to make that expertise available to help rural Nevada on issues like health care or broadband service. The impact of climate change is evident in Nevada and the industry needs to prepare with green energy initiatives.

What do you hope to do next?

Good endings lead to good beginnings. My first focus is a successful transition by year end for my successor Catherine Raw, and to hand off my urban projects to our corporate social responsibility director, Rebecca Darling. They are going to be great for Nevada.

My candle burns at both ends. In January I’ll be looking for an encore career here in Nevada where I can have an impact on social issues and public policy challenges. Brian Burton at Three Square calls it “shifting from business success to social significance.” I have no plans to retire from public life and plan to remain in Nevada. My father and grandfather were both labor union leaders. I have the crusader gene in my DNA. I am just looking for the right cause.