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Peter Munk and Facebook’s Jordan Banks Talk Shop

When dinner ends with a panel discussion featuring renowned businessman/philanthropist Peter Munk, the Founder and Chairman of Barrick Gold, and Jordan Banks, Global Head of Vertical Strategy and Managing Director of Facebook Canada, you know that it’s not your typical, run of-the-mill charity event

When dinner ends with a panel discussion featuring renowned businessman/philanthropist Peter Munk, the Founder and Chairman of Barrick Gold, and Jordan Banks, Global Head of Vertical Strategy and Managing Director of Facebook Canada, you know that it’s not your typical, run of-the-mill charity event. The occasion was Inspiration Night 2013, a fundraising dinner in support of Merry Go Round Children’s Foundation’s Kids, Cops and Computers Program. In an educational climate where computer access is a must, the program helps to level the digital playing field between financially disadvantaged kids by supplying them with brand-new laptops and Internet access while building positive relationships between youth and police through mentorship programs.

Moderated by Master of Ceremonies Ben Mulroney, the highlight of the evening (in addition to the ample food and networking) was the informative panel discussion with Peter Munk and Jordan Banks. They are two very different men in many ways –from age to background and industry, to Munk’s traditional business suit vs. Banks’ Converse Chucks. They do, however, share a few similar views when it comes to business. Here’s what we learned…

On motivating and inspiring people in your business:
Munk: Motivation with Barrick involves 20,000 people, from Argentinean unionized pastors to very dedicated executives who are willing to alter their lives for the company’s successes. It’s difficult to have a mobilizer that fits all in my profession. It is important to have a dream, articulate that dream, to make that dream believable and to pass that vision and mentorship down to others. 

On failure:
Banks: At Facebook, we talk about this often: fail often and fail hard. Failure at Facebook is celebrated. Some of the greatest innovations have come on the heels of massive failure. We don’t encourage anyone to fail at the same things twice, but fail hard and fail fast. In terms of a personal example, I worked for a number of years at eBay. For a time, we were trying to move into other markets, one was real estate. After about six months, we realized we weren’t going to do it but we took what we learned about Canada and other countries and other markets were born out of virtue of our failure. 

Munk: Twenty or 25 years ago, I recall a cover news article story, before the days of eBay and Facebook, on how to select a winner in business from a loser. They looked at different criteria behind success; parenting, background, education, environment, school, where you come from, etc. The most common denominator of all factors the study found was that they all failed and all came back. Failure was identified as a key component of being really on top. Of course, I’ve experienced my own setbacks… you can’t go 60 years without failure.

On changing corporate strategy with growth and success as a startup:
Munk: I don’t know if change is the proper word, I’d say it’s about adjusting. Reaching the top doesn’t happen very often. Barrick operates in an industry that’s 150 years old in Canada and really supported the Canadian evolution. You do have to adjust, and it’s not an easy adjustment. You also realize there’s a limit to growth. It’s a difficult thing to face when you reach the top, but it’s a reality.

Banks: It’s about the concept of getting big but staying small. Managing growth is obviously key in long-term success. The consistent thing between companies that start small and become dominant players and grow successfully is that they never lose sight of the importance of the culture. At the end of the day, whether it’s in mining or technology, it’s all about people and relationships. If you keep people focused on the important things – relationships, building and facilitating a culture that allows you to prosper as a company and withstand ebbs and flows of market cycles – you’re on the right track. People often forget that.

On worrying about the competition:
Banks: We spend little time thinking about our competitors. I do think we face a very real friction in fast-growing industries and it’s important to think in terms of how do I do what nobody else is doing but stay true to what I’m trying to do? We don’t do that by worrying about what anyone else is doing. We are in the business of making people open and connected, and everything we do needs to stay true to that vision. The second we become distracted and focus on other things, that’s not a good thing. Sticking to your mission and your vision, that’s how you stay successful. Don’t get distracted by competitors or by the public markets. You’re never as good as they say you are, never as bad; so don’t listen to any of it.

On legacy:
Munk: From the very beginning, I had an enormous debt to Canada. When you’re not born here and your parents and grandparents are all taken into the country after the war, which was a pretty traumatic experience, that will do it. Canada welcomed my 87-year-old grandfather, looked after him in the hospital throughout his heart problems. I grew up totally committed to the country. It nurtured me and looked after my family, so I had to give something back in return. It was an obligation. So when it got to the point where I had my first million dollars, I sat down with the university and the Munk Centre was the first thing I created. That’s the purpose of life; you bring up your family and repay your debts. This country was so generous for nothing in return. I told my children, “your father might die a millionaire or a poor man.” I am an entrepreneur, I risk a lot and can only give my kids the values that my family gave me, whether you want to be a carpenter or millionaire like my son. Don’t come to me for large amounts of money, though. My kids respect me for it, actually. 

Banks: To some extent we are very much motivated as a company by legacy. My 29-year-old boss would tell you that every day he comes to work, and he is one of the most completely mission-driven human beings I have ever seen. Another way to look at the concept of legacy is that it forces you to think about how you use your most precious assets collectively, which are units of time. Ask yourself what you want to be remembered for in the next 5, 10, 15 years. Then map your time accordingly. How should you spend each year of your life using units of time? If you can’t connect the lines, you are probably spending your time doing the wrong thing.

On luck:
Banks: The definition of luck is a bit misleading; it implies an externality beyond your control. But what is important is the intersection between hard work, being industrious, being open to opportunity, taking advantage of opportunities and luck. I think I’ve been fortunate but a lot of my success is a product of hustle and work ethic. Many things can be controlled, but luck can come into play. Externalities are not necessarily beyond your control, however. 

Munk: I’m from a different generation and I don’t know in my case. No person can really turn a business into success based solely on a set of criteria. Success is not always genius; it’s not always hard work. Many smart guys are piss-poor. Success is a composition of a product of 100 different things: creativity, integrity, commitment, application, creation, passion and reputation. You need them all to succeed in life. But since so many people don’t make it, success can’t be attributed to single known factors. There exists a degree of randomness. Many people are smarter than me. It takes an extra component of randomness, that extra component is what I call luck. In the mining business, I can name for you events that made Barrick a great company and I can pinpoint decisions that could have been equally wrong, but they turned out right. What’s right for him may be wrong for you; one guy could be a success, the other a failure for no real reason. Some of us admit it, some of us don’t. I barely finished university so I can’t call my luck a result of my genius. I hardly call myself a workaholic, even though my wife thinks I am. I didn’t have the contacts, I didn’t have the support. It somehow worked out.

On inspiration:
Banks: I grew up with a single mom the most part of my formative years. She made $11,000 a year. When she went back to work, she was the only woman in a college of all males, but became Dean of Continuing Education at Centennial College. I grew up knowing a few things: we didn’t have a lot, she sacrificed a lot, and I experienced unconditional love despite the circumstance. I also found that it’s no fun to be poor. As trite as it sounds, I would be lying if I said that a part of my motivation was to give my kids things that I didn’t have. And as I saw more people with these things, I especially recall the people that gave back. Community service is the rent we all pay for living in Canada. My inspiration is to find ways to give back because I know how lucky I am. As my career grew, I have been fortunate to have met many people from all over who offer sparkles of wisdom and brilliance that I’ve tried to pick up on. It is so important to give back financially and intellectually. 

Advice to today’s 12-year-olds:
Munk: Depends on how much time you give me. It all begins with a dream – how can you go anywhere without one? If you don’t have that vision or dream, it’s impossible to actively move forward. If that doesn’t work, rely on your industry smarts.

Banks: There hasn’t been a more exciting time in the history of the world to be a kid than today. In 10 years, the way kids connect and add value to our society will be so unrecognizable compared to today. We won’t be here in 10 years talking about computers, laptops and tablets, but wearable technology. Kids with watches, glasses and shirts that will govern everything they do. The great democratization will happen; success won’t depend on pedigree or race, but will be about how smart and industrious you are. A decade will be comparable to a century. Where I sit, it’s exciting to see first-hand because I get access to these kids and interact with them. They don’t think of Canada or North America as a market, they think in terms of global domination. I think that is incredibly exciting.

On retaining Canada’s intellectual capital:
Banks: One of the fallacies is the mentality that we are inferior from a talent perspective to countries like the US and Israel. Take it from someone who has had the opportunity to work with countless brilliant Canadians over the years: nothing can be further from the truth. But if you put an engineer from the University of Waterloo against someone from Stanford, the Waterloo graduate would fail. Why? He doesn’t have access to great mentorship. If you graduated from Stanford, you’d have a group of mentors, and if you reached out and said you were a PHD student, they’d return your call within 30 minutes. We don’t have that infrastructure in Canada for our university students. We also don’t have as many people in Canada who pay it back, intellectually and financially. We need more Canadian entrepreneurs who sell their businesses to invest some back into the country for future models. We have great intellectual property here and its time for serious coast-to-coast investment in that.

Munk: What we need is a political and social environment that fosters entrepreneurs. If you were to give the right opportunity and environment in terms of support to grow entrepreneurs and local businesses, you’d have more businesses like Facebook and Barrick. That’s what creates jobs, provides influence, and keeps top-notch people at home. That’s where opportunity is; entrepreneurs with dreams. This isn’t about bureaucracies. More entrepreneurs mean more homegrown businesses. We have a press here that seems to have a delight in undermining Canadian talent, who rejoice in highlighting the bad news as opposed to the successes when they should be doing the opposite. We need to foster, nurture and support Canadian companies. We have to create that ambiance. Bureaucracy and socialism is the contrary of what they need. Encourage Canadian competence. It’s a tragedy that, one after another, Canadian companies have failed. We need to get behind these companies when they are young to foster that type of job creation.

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