Some people have greatness thrust upon them, as the saying goes. It could well be said that happened to Gordon Parker who was told in no uncertain terms that he would be attending Montana Tech to get a mining engineering degree.
At the time, Parker was living in Tsumeb, Namibia, and had just completed an internship at Tsumeb Corp., an affiliate of Newmont Mining Corporation. The "greatness" in his career reached its zenith when he was named chairman, president and CEO of Newmont in 1985. He forestalled a hostile takeover attempt of Newmont by T. Boone Pickens and then restructured Newmont into a highly focused gold mining company.
He also brought the world headquarters from New York to Denver in the interest of overall operating efficiency and to position the company for future growth.
According to its history, Newmont was founded in 1921 in New York by Col. William Boyce Thompson as a holding company to invest in mineral properties. The name Newmont was chosen by Thompson as a contraction of New York, and Montana, because, as one biographer put it, "he grew up in the latter and made his money in the former." Parker's college career got off to a slightly shaky start when he transferred from South Africa to Montana. Imagine this, as told by Parker in his reserved, but humorous British/South African accent: "When I arrived in Butte, Holy god! It was a huge cultural shock.
"Cape Town is a hell of a long distance from Butte. Cape Town is on the ocean, it has a Mediterranean climate and is surrounded by mountains and vineyards. "Of course, Cape Town had many British influences, so I arrived in Butte wearing a double-breasted blazer, an old school tie and brown suede shoes. I must have been quite a sight. I was met by guys in blue jeans and T-shirts and huge belt buckles. I assimilated quickly due to the kindness and warmth of the people there. I had no difficulty fitting in, though I don't think I ever wore one of those big belt buckles."
Q. How did you choose your area of study?
A. Simple, Montana Tech was chosen for me. I was studying civil engineering in South Africa, when I applied to an affiliate of Newmont for an internship. At the end of the internship the managing director asked me, "Would you like to study mining engineering rather than civil, and we will pay your way through Montana Tech in Butte, Montana?" I did not know where Butte was, and I had only spent six months down a mine during my internship. By the way, the mine was in Namibia. It was a very high grade base metal deposit which was well known for its astonishing diversity of minerals. Anyhow, that's how I got to Butte and set out to become a mining engineer. I was 19. I had completed my sophomore year in South Africa at the University of Cape Town where I had grown up and spent my entire school career.
Q. What is your proudest moment in your career?
A. The pinnacle of my career was becoming chairman, president and CEO of Newmont. After completing my studies at Tech, I went to work for various affiliates of Newmont until I joined Newmont in New York City in 1981 as vice president of worldwide operations. I remained with Newmont for the rest of my career, becoming chairman in 1986. While I always aspired to higher positions and always felt prepared and capable of taking on additional responsibility, I was, nonetheless, humbled and surprised when the promotion actually came my way.
Q. What goal or project did you accomplish of which you are most proud?
A. Turning back the hostile takeover attempt by T. Boone Pickens and converting Newmont from a diversified mining company to one that was focused almost entirely solely on gold. I am also very proud of the exploration successes achieved by Newmont during my years of leadership.
Newmont in June of this year had a market capitalization of approximately $23.6 billion and employed 35,000 employees and contractors. It was smaller when I took over in 1985 and our diverse interests included gold, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, coal, oil and fertilizers.
Now Newmont is almost entirely centered on gold with small amounts of copper being mined in Indonesia. The reason we decided to shed all assets other than gold in 1987-89 was to take advantage of the high price earnings ratio enjoyed by gold mining companies as opposed to the price earnings ratios enjoyed by companies producing other commodities.
I moved the company from New York to Denver because it was an opportunity to change the culture of the workforce and to bring all senior employees to one location. As a bonus, Denver had a strong mining culture, good educational facilities, offered a good work ethic and was well located for international travel to the four corners of the globe.
Q. Tell us about some memorable college experience. Did you find Tech difficult?
A. No, I did not find Tech difficult, but I thought it was good, not a cakewalk, better than I expected. I also worked in the mines two nights a week — Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. for three years. All the workings at the time were underground. I worked at the Mountain Con, Anselmo, Leonard and others the names of which I can't remember. It provided me some very good pocket money. My social life was impaired, but on the other hand Butte came alive at 2 a.m.!
The outstanding feature of my time in Butte was that opportunity to get practical experience. My predecessor as chairman, Plato Malozemoff, was a graduate of Montana School of Mines. Plato had done his undergraduate work in Berkeley and followed the famous Antione Marc Gaudin to Montana to do graduate work in mineral processing engineering. Gaudin was probably one of the most famous professors at the Montana School of Mines in the 1920s to early 1930s and left to take a position at MIT. It is because of Malozemoff's association with Montana Tech that I was encouraged, nay mandated, by Newmont to study at Tech.
Q. Who is a favorite hero to you, mentor, public, private and why?
A. If one identifies any one person you do a disservice to a thousand others. In my high school career, I was very greatly influenced by several of my masters (teachers). My parents were also very influential and taught me the value of hard work and study. I was the first in the family to go to college. My father had studied engineering the hard way; through an apprenticeship program in Scotland. My parents were determined that their children would go to college.
Q. How did Tech serve you in your past, current or future jobs. Give us some examples.
A. As you know, I've worked for only one company my entire life, Newmont Mining Corporation. I have been retired for some 15 years. Apart from my technical education I received an MBA degree in 1966 at the Graduate Business School of the University of Cape Town. It was very helpful. Most engineers are inclined to be narrow-minded. I believed that a broader based education layered over the top of a technical foundation would be necessary to operate in the complex world that we live in. It proved to be the case.
Q. How do you stay connected to Montana Tech?
A. I have established the Gordon R. Parker Scholarship Fund and keep in contact through Tech publications and personal contacts.
Q. What advice would you give high school students who are considering entering college?
A. First thing, stop thinking about it, just go! What's to think about? Go with the intention of learning as much as you can about as many things as you can. The college social life is great, but the real purpose is to take advantage of the opportunity to learn. There is nothing more enjoyable than learning itself or the thrill of teaching someone else and seeing their eyes light up when they get it.
I guess college may not be for everyone, but it is surely for most! I would urge students to take it very seriously and enjoy all aspects of the experience. Like life itself, you need to be prepared to grasp opportunities when they come along. That is what some people call luck.
Now retired, some 15 years, Parker still maintains an office in Denver, "because I need a place to read the newspapers," he says. He has retired from all public corporation boards in recent years, but he is a Trustee of the Colorado Symphony. When the weather in Denver get unbearable ,he and his wife Pam head to Cape Town, South Africa, where they spend several months each year in their second home.
Gordon Rae Parker, 73, native of Cape Town, South Africa Residence: 25 Downing Street, Building 2; Penthouse 1, Denver, Colo., 80218 E-mail: GordonRParker@aol.corn Wife's maiden name: Pamela Margaret Pearce Children: Gillian Rae Parker Dixon, born March 7, 1965; David Rae Parker, born Nov. 4, 1967 Education: M.B.A., University of Cape Town, 1966; M.S., Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, (Mineral Dressing Engineering), 1959; B.S., Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, (Mining Engineering), 1958; Honorary Montana Tech, University of Montana Degrees/ Distinguished Alumni Award, 2004 Awards: Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology Honorary Doctor of Engineering, 1985; Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology Honorary Engineer of Mines 1976; University of Cape Town, Graduate School of Business Old Mutual Scholar, 1966.
Post Corporate Directorships: Caterpillar, Inc.; Phelps Dodge Corporation The Williams Companies Gold Fields Limited; Professional American Institute of Mining, Affiliations: Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers Mining and Metallurgical Society of America The South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Past Vice-Chairman, American Mining Congress Past Chairman, Western Regional Council Post Corporate Directorships: Phelps Dodge NewMont Mining 1975-1981 Managing Director, 1959-1975 Various technical and management positions, O'okiep Copper Company Limited Tsumeb Corporation Limited Post Corporate Directorships: Caterpillar, Inc.
Phelps Dodge Corporation The Williams Companies Gold Fields Limited Professional American Institute of Mining, Affiliations: Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers Mining and Metallurgical Society of America The South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Past Vice-Chairman, American Mining Congress Past Chairman, Western Regional Council.
Past Director, The University of Cape Town Fund, Inc.
Positions: 1986 - 1994 Chairman, Newmont Mining Corporation 1985-1991 Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Newmont Mining Corporation 1981 - 1984 Vice President, Operations, Newmont Mining Corporation 1975-1981 Managing Director, O'okiep Copper Company Limited, South Africa Tsumeb Corporation Limited, South West Africa 1959 - 1975 Various technical and management positions, O'okiep Copper Company Limited Tsumeb Corporation Limited Post Corporate Directorships: Caterpillar, Inc.
Phelps Dodge Corporation The Williams Companies Gold Fields Limited Professional American Institute of Mining, Affiliations: Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers Mining and Metallurgical Society of America The South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy Past Vice-Chairman, American Mining Congress Past Chairman, Western Regional Council Past Director, The University of Cape Town Fund, Inc.
Biographical Data Gordon R. Parker Page 3 Not-for-Profit Past Chairman, International Institute of Education, Affiliations: Rocky Mountain Region Trustee, Colorado Symphony Association Trustee, Colorado Symphony Foundation Western Province Cricket Club Past Trustee, Denver Boy Scouts Social Affiliations: Denver Country Club University Club Royal Cape Golf Club Western Province Cricket Club Kelvin Grove