Early years and family
Munk was born in Budapest
, into a prosperous Hungarian-Jewish
family, the son of Katharina Adler Munk and Lajos "Louis" Munk (1898–1977).
His grandfather, Gábor "Gabriel" Munk, had descended from a family of rabbis
, was a brother of the noted linguist
and ethnologist Bernát Munkácsi
(né Munk), and uncle of the Hungarian jurist and writer Erno Munkacsi
. Gábor became wealthy via Austro-Hungarian distribution rights for the popular Viennese chocolate brand, Manner
, invested in real estate, then, during World War II
, used what remained of his fortune to buy safe passage out of Hungary to neutral Switzerland for members of his immediate family, including his grandson Peter.
Hungary was occupied
by Nazi Germany
in March 1944, when Munk was aged 16;
along with 14 members of his family, he escaped on the Kastner train
, which carried 1,684 Jews to safety in Switzerland
. The journey had been arranged by Rudolf Kastner
of the Zionist Aid and Rescue Committee
, as a result of secret negotiations with Adolf Eichmann
—the high-ranking Nazi had allowed some Jews to leave in exchange for money, gold, and diamonds, part of a series of so-called "blood for goods" deals.
Munk's mother, who divorced his father when he was four, was deported from Budapest to Auschwitz concentration camp
in 1944. She survived, but later died by suicide.
Munk arrived in Canada in 1948, via Switzerland, initially on a student visa, then graduated from the University of Toronto
, in 1952, with a degree in electrical engineering
Decades later, he praised Canada: "I arrived in this place not speaking the language, not knowing a dog... This is a country that does not ask about your origins; it only concerns itself with your destiny."
In 1958, with $2,800 from his father-in-law, Webber Pharmaceuticals (now Webber Naturals) founder William Jay Gutterson,
he co-founded Clairtone
with Scandinavian furniture importer David Gilmour
. Clairtone manufactured high-end console stereos, and later televisions, which were recognizable icons of their day. The most celebrated Clairtone designs were the striking "Project G" series, introduced in 1964, composed of sleek rosewood cabinets with cantilevered black aluminum "sound globes" (speakers). The Project G and G2 were seen in the films Marriage on the Rocks
and The Graduate,
awarded a silver medal for excellence at the Milan Triennial
design exhibition, and endorsed by Frank Sinatra
and Oscar Peterson
Fans of the Project G included Hugh Hefner
Clairtone's downfall began with "an ill-advised plan to build a plant in Nova Scotia."
The plant, built in Stellarton
, opened in 1966 with funding from the province's Industrial Estates Limited
(IEL). According to William Mingo, chief counsel for IEL, as quoted in his daughter Nina Munk
's book about Clairtone, "Munk was too good a salesman for his own good. He could sell anything to anyone, including himself. My, he was a promoter. My, he had energy. My, he had charm. My, he had imagination."
In 1967, as a result of mounting losses and in order to try to recoup its multi-million dollar investments, the Government of Nova Scotia
took over Clairtone and fired Munk and Gilmour. Munk faced accusations of insider trading
"that were eventually settled out of court."
A report commissioned by Clairtone in the aftermath of the factory's failure found that one of the main issues was the local workforce. "The general population is basically not geared to the manufacturing frenzy and especially the five-day workweek... The welfare situation is such that it has created conditions similar to Appalachia
in the United States where the third generation is already on relief."
Hospitality and real estate
In 1979, Munk returned to Canada to start a new venture called Barrick, which he would eventually build into the world's largest gold company. At the time, bankers and the establishment viewed him as "a fugitive and a loser," according to Munk.
In 2007, Munk invested with partners in Porto Montenegro
, a former naval base on the Adriatic Sea
, turning it into a superyacht destination to rival Cannes and Monte Carlo. He was the majority shareholder of Montport Capital, which owned the centrepieces of the complex, Porto Montenegro Marina and Resort. He developed the site on the Bay of Kotor
, putting Montenegro
on the map for high-end tourism. In 2016 Munk sold the marina and hotel to Investment Corporation of Dubai, a sovereign wealth fund
for an undisclosed amount, believed to be about 200 million euros.
In 1980, Munk created Barrick Petroleum
to invest in the oil sector, but he quickly realized that investments in this sector were ruinous. After the acquisition of a small company, Camflo Mines
, Barrick left the oil sector and became overnight a mining company.
In 2011, Munk planned to merge with Glencore
, Ivan Glasenberg
's company, to create one of the world's largest commodities giants on par with BHP Billiton
and Rio Tinto
. The gold market was not aligned with Glencore's other activities, however, and the deal did not go through.
By 2016, Barrick had proven and probable reserves of two billion tons (1.33 grams of gold per tonne of ore).
It is the world's largest gold mining company and the largest Canadian company by capitalization. Munk retired from the day-to-day management but he remained the founder and President Emeritus. "Barrick is my legacy," Munk said.
In 1992, the Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation
was founded. It has disbursed more than $300 million to a variety of organizations that work to improve the health, education and international reputation of Canadians.
In a speech he delivered in September 2017, on announcing a $100 million donation to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the Toronto General Hospital
, Munk spoke of his philanthropy in the context of his gratitude to the country that saved his life: "You opened the door. You gave us everything," he added, referring to Canada as "paradise."
In 2016, Munk made a $5 million donation to the Fraser Institute
, a think tank
, to launch the Peter Munk Centre for Free Enterprise Education.
As well, with a $12 million donation from Aurea Foundation, a sub-division of his primary charitable foundation, Peter Munk established the semi-annual Munk Debates
In 1997, Munk helped create the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the Toronto General Hospital
with an initial donation of $6 million. In May 2006, he announced that he would donate another $37 million, at the time the largest gift ever made to a Canadian medical institution.
In September 2017, he donated another $100 million.
As well, Peter and Melanie Munk established University Health Network
’s first endowed chair
for the cardiac program: the Melanie Munk Chair in Cardiovascular Surgery.
A contract between the Munk Foundation and the University of Toronto came under criticism due to the secrecy that shrouded its approval, and the fact that Munk's contribution of $35 million were conditional on $25 million contributions each by the federal government and the university. Coming at a time of downsizing and threats to the funding of other academic units, critics charge that these decisions are emblematic of the government's and the University's ceding of academic resource allocation decisions to the corporate sector.
According to Linda McQuaig
's book, The Trouble with Billionaires
, Munk's donation to the University of Toronto came with strings attached to ensure that the school would "fit with the political views and sensitivities of Peter Munk." McQuaig writes that "according to Munk's written agreement with the university, the Munk donations will be paid over an extended time period, with much of the money to be paid years from now – and subject to the Munk family's approval of the school. For that matter, the school's director will be required to report annually to a board appointed by Munk 'to discuss the programs, activities and initiatives of the School in greater detail.'"
University president David Naylor
rejected personal attacks on donors as "a deplorable affront to the values of rational and respectful discourse that are supposed to characterize a university" and stated "I later served on the board of the University Health Network, in the years when Dr. Munk made two gifts exceeding $40 million to support the cardiovascular program at that hospital. There was not a single instance where Peter Munk interfered with the educational, research or clinical priorities of the institution."
On September 3, 1956, Munk married Linda Joy Gutterson, the daughter of a Forest Hill
pharmaceutical entrepreneur who gave Munk the start-up capital to fund his first company. Linda was 19, not long out of Havergal College
; he was 10 years older. "'Linda tracked me down with a laser beam,' said Munk. 'I was a curiosity; I was different. Not because I was so great, let me tell you, I was fat, bald, poor, a boring engineering student.'"
The couple separated and reunited more than once in the 1960s, having three children and divorcing in 1970 but staying on very good terms. After the marriage was over, she pursued an academic career, becoming a professor of English at the University of Toronto
On June 26, 1973, Munk married his second wife, Melanie Jane Bosanquet, in London with whom he had two more children.
She is the cousin of Charles Palmer-Tomkinson
, a British land-owner and Olympic skier. Munk skied for 71 years, and built with his wife in 1972 a ski chalet
called Viti Levu
, which they consider home. It overlooks the mountain of Gotschnagrat
His children are: Anthony Munk, a senior managing director at Onex
private equity; Nina Munk
, a journalist and contributing editor for Vanity Fair Marc-David Munk
, a physician and healthcare executive; Natalie; and Cheyne. In his late 70s Munk was fitted with a pacemaker
Munk died in Toronto on March 28, 2018, at the age of 90.
The cause of death was not disclosed, but Munk had been dealing with heart problems for several years and wore a pacemaker.
The Financial Post
posthumously lauded him as "An entrepreneur with a Midas touch, he was one of Canada's most high-flying, international deal makers, with friends ranging from Brian Mulroney
and Prince Charles
to the arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi
and French billionaire Bernard Arnault
, as well as one its most generous benefactors."
He received several honorary degrees:
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- Peter Munk at the Wayback Machine (archived February 28, 2009)
- Biography of Peter Munk
- Citation for Peter and Melanie Munk
- Archival photographs and documents concerning Peter Munk's early life in Hungary, Munk-Munkácsi Family Collection, Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár(Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, Budapest)
- Cumming, John "The Northern Miner's video tribute to Peter Munk," The Northern Miner, April 25, 2018. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
- Interview with Kenneth Whyte, 2013, at The Canadian Encyclopedia
Last edited on 28 January 2021, at 08:42
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