Barrick Gold Corp's new chief executive, Aaron Regent, found himself on the wrong end of a multibillion-dollar battle for mining supremacy three years ago, but his current job will likely put him in the driver's seat for any future acquisitions.

As a young hotshot piloting Falconbridge in late 2005, Regent agreed to merge with Inco to create a Canadian base metals giant, but the deal fell apart and Falconbridge was taken over by Switzerland's Xstrata .

In taking over the top job at Barrick on Friday, he grabs the reins of a cash-rich industry leader that expects to build on its dominant position even as other miners struggle to conserve capital and wait out a global recession.

Regent replaces Greg Wilkins, who was sidelined last year by a serious but undisclosed medical condition. Barrick Chairman Peter Munk has filled in as CEO in the interim.

At 43, Regent is barely half the age of 80-year-old Munk, who praised the new CEO's experience as a mining executive back when base metal prices were depressed in the early part of the decade.

Rising tides lift all boats. It's easy to be a big shot in the commodity business when the commodity goes through the roof, Munk said. It was that particular area of his involvement that appealed to us.

With Barrick, the challenge will not be operating in a weak metal environment. Gold, while off last year's record highs, is still trading at a historically strong $840 an ounce and typically does well during times of economic turmoil.

Instead, his task will be to manage Barrick's sprawling portfolio of 27 mines, and to bring on new lower-cost mines to ensure the company continues to produce the 8 million or so annual ounces that investors have become accustomed to.

For a company of that size, I think reserve replacement is the biggest issue. If you're chewing through 8 million ounces a year, that's lot of ounces you have to replace every year, said Kerry Smith, an analyst at Haywood Securities.

Barrick is working on major projects in Latin America, Tanzania, and Alaska, and many expect the company will use its $1.7 billion in cash to help fund more acquisitions.

Like his recent predecessors, Regent is a trained accountant, and spent the last few years as a top executive at Brookfield Asset Management . That's a good credential to run a company that has built itself through deals such as the 2006 takeover of Placer Dome that vaulted it to the top of the gold industry.

While reluctant to get into details on his first day on the job, Regent acknowledged on Friday the stock market slump and credit crisis have produced opportunities to snap up properties at a discount.

If there are situations, distressed situations, where people have to act quickly, I think Barrick is able to respond to that he told reporters at the company's head office in Toronto.

I think it's more about being opportunistic. So if something comes up, we definitely will look to be able to respond. (Editing by Frank McGurty)