munk bookI am fortunate to have a copy of Donald Rumball’s 1996 biography of Canadian business legend Peter Munk, The Making of a Modern Tycoon, on my bookshelf. 

The unauthorized account covers Munk’s escape from Nazi occupied Hungary to Canada as a Jewish teenager, where he went on to found Claritone, Canada’s preeminent stereo manufacturer, in 1958.

Munk was also an early promoter of Fiji and developed the South Pacific Hotel Corporation there. He founded Trizec Properties, one of the largest US real estate investment trusts, which sold to Brookfield Properties in 2006. In 1983, Munk founded Barrick Gold, today the world’s largest gold producer.

Despite recent headwinds for Barrick, Munk’s life and times have been nothing short of astonishing, with a cast of characters including Frank Sinatra, Adnan Khashoggi, Brian Mulroney, George H.W. Bush and countless other global leaders.

Rumball put Munk’s entrepreneurial brilliance succinctly, “For the first 30 years of his career, he spent most of his time creating visions, selling them to financial partners, and then working impossibly hard to turn the vision into reality before reality dissolved the vision. This aspect of entrepreneurs, almost magical in its power, is widely misunderstood and often deprecated, perhaps because most people do not themselves have the will or the courage to dream visions that defy gravity.”

Rumball also spells out Munk’s 34 Golden Rules:

1. Never raise money when you need it. Raise it when financial markets are buoyant; invest it when markets are depressed.

2. Always give away some of the upside to protect the downside.

3. Work with people whom you respect and who have characteristics you don’t have.

4. Time is short. If you want to achieve much, you’ve got to run.

(Munk in 1963)

(Munk in 1963)

5. Don’t give away your destiny. Don’t put control into the hands of a body that doesn’t have interests aligned with yours. Governments are a good example.

6. Play with the hand you’re dealt. It’s very frustrating to apply your mind to a different hand.

7. You don’t need to know the industry you’re going into. If you apply yourself, you can always find the experts.

8. Take your company public when its value is rising in order to raise more money on the stock market for diversification.

Munk with Co-Chairman John Thornton (Barrick)

Munk with Co-Chairman John Thornton (Barrick)

9. Always leave something on the table in a public issue. If you push for the last penny, it may hurt you the next time around.

10. If an acquisition is strategically right don’t worry about the price.

11. Look for partners who will argue with you, because it disciplines your thinking and enables you to pick up negatives that you yourself may overlook.

12. Life is about meeting objectives. Sometimes your objectives cross other people’s. Then you have to fight — and you fight to win. What’s the point of fighting if you don’t win?

(Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

(Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

13. If you focus, you win.

14. Don’t give up.

15. Leaders should compensate for other people’s weaknesses, and draw on their strengths.

16. People are motivated by much more than money. You just cannot be humdrum. There has to be a joy in achieving objectives, a joy in creating wealth, a joy in making properties better.

17. If the market discounts your shares, you can’t use the market to raise capital — so buy back your shares.

18. A successful partnership always has someone who ultimately can make a decision and take the responsibility.

19. Be prepared for trouble when bankers are optimistic about your industry — especially when the bankers are Swiss.

20. Never buy high, hoping it will go higher. Buy low and hope it will go higher.

21. When you’re young or when you’re old, failure should not be an impediment to trying again.

22. Don’t stop dreaming — and don’t stop dreaming big if you want to succeed.

23. It’s management’s job to do what’s right, not what’s easy or convenient.

24. Trust is the foundation. You cannot substitute for trust. Trust means you say the truth.

(Image: George Pimentel, Toronto Life)

(Peter Munk (right) shakes Henry Kissinger’s hand as Fareed Zakaria smiles (center). Image: George Pimentel, Toronto Life)

25. Always deal from a strong equity base. Dilute every time you can get equity for more than book value.

26. Be very aggressive operationally and very conservative financially.

27. Don’t ever confuse gambling with business. You take your chances but you hedge your bets.

28. Do deals only if they help your strategic objectives.

(Aaron Harris/Bloomberg)

(Aaron Harris/Bloomberg)

29. Listen to smart people.

30. If you want to dream big, expect big problems. Big dreams challenge the fates.

31. Don’t expect to buy at the best price. Expect to sell at the right price.

32. You cannot build a team without mutual confidence, mutual trust, mutual reliability. And there’s no team if you don’t have the strength. You need the strength when you go into battle. Whatever you tackle — and in business you’re always tackling things — the other party has to feel that there is total cohesiveness, there’s total awareness of the objectives, and there’s total support of each other.



33. If you have to worry about the consultants pay, you shouldn’t retain any.

34. Share the wealth.