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"Keynote address at Mount Allison University"

Remarks at the 2007 Mount Allison University Convocation
May 14, 2007
Written by Ed Clark.

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I want to start by warning you that speaking at convocations is hardly my forte. I give lots of speeches – but the topic “banking strategies” is pretty dry and boring. I consulted my children as to what speeches they liked at their graduations, and the message was clear – short and as painless as possible. The short I can deliver, but the painless lacked a bit of definition – but I’ll try.

First I would like to thank Mount Allison for this honour. Mount Allison is truly a unique institution, and it is a delight to be both honoured by such a great educational centre, but also to be given the opportunity to say a few words to some of Canada’s future leaders.

Secondly, I want to thank Purdy Crawford for his introduction. Purdy is truly a great Canadian. I speak for a whole generation of leaders in many different spheres across Canada – who would say that Purdy Crawford made a difference in their lives. If you had to choose one role model, Purdy Crawford would be, for many of us, our first choice.

Purdy mentioned my varied career – to many it would seem that I had trouble keeping a job. To me, it felt that lucky breaks drove me along – all the while pursuing a fairly simple strategy – choose a job where you will grow and become better – never choose a job for the money – if you do the first, the money will look after itself.

I would like to comment briefly at the end of my remarks about the state of public policy – and the important role you can play in shaping Canada, but before doing so, I would like to touch briefly on what I have learned in the last 35 years working on both sides of the public/private divide.

My first counsel to you would be to set yourself a simple goal – have an impact. Never leave the world unaltered – in a big or small way. At the TD Bank when we celebrate people, it’s always those who made the people around them better – by reaching out, by coaching, by giving praise. A friend of mine told me he retired early because he didn’t have the energy to drive his job – he found he was letting the job drive him. Life is about having an impact. When you look back you will remember people you helped, organizations you improved, events which changed because you cared and tried.

Have a point of view – but don’t be ideological. Being ideological is a dressed up way of being intellectually lazy. Ideologies give you simple answers to all questions – but history rarely proves that this is the case – and sadly proves that it is costly. You should have a point of view – you need to in order to have an impact – but read into other’s differences with you – not their ignorance, or self-interest – but often a grasp of a point you have missed. The great political and military disasters often stem from people not listening. So push your point of view, but in doing so absorb both the open questions, and hidden doubts that people are conveying to you.

Don’t underestimate the wisdom of non-conceptual thinking. Universities are great places. I grew up in an academic family. Universities teach paradigms – essential ordering devices for thought – I once asked Jeff Simpson one of Canada’s premier journalists, what he would suggest studying to be a great journalist and he replied – anything – just come with a framework to view the world. But the world is often run by people with little education, or who didn’t do well in school. They have another important attribute - common sense – they may not be able to articulate a reasoning scheme which explains why they get the answer – but often they may be right. Other times you will discover that – people may have the wrong answer – but are on to the right problem – so start with their problem – not their answer and figure out what to do. What you have learned at school helps avoid the pitfalls of prejudiced reasoning, but balance it with a sensitivity that people’s gut feelings tell you something important too.

Never take yourself too seriously – even if the world does. As you grow older and accomplish more – people will give you respect – but never lose sight of the fact that most successful people are the beneficiaries of great good fortune and supporting acts of many people. The people I truly admire are those who have kept their success in perspective. Yes they drove hard, yes they accomplished a lot, yes they are pleased with what they have accomplished - but they recognize the greatness in others and all those who helped them get to where they are.

Focus on human emotions. We live in a very material world. It is striking to me how we continue to shift the trade-off curve between non-goods, pleasure, friends and relaxation and pleasure based on consumption of goods towards more material consumption. But despite this shift – people long to be inspired; they want to be part of a greater cause; they have enormous loyalty to their group. I have been struck in every place I worked, public or private, how dedicated people are – and what drives them most is leadership – not pay. In most large organizations the barrier to advancement is people skills – EQ not IQ, the willingness to show vulnerability, the capacity to inspire. Wherever you go, whatever you do understand the people dimension, show passion. Provide leadership to those around you, be a role model.

Finally – always step back and ask the big question – where do you want to go – not what do we do next. In most organizations short-term performance pressures cause people to try to move ahead by solving today’s problems. But you cannot know where to go next, if you don’t know where you are going to. Start with a clean sheet of paper – ask what you want and then try to figure out how to get there. This is as true for life’s choices as for organizational issues.

Of course when you do that – you will discover that at the end what is important is family and friends. Were you a good parent, spouse, friend or child? And did you have an impact, small or large, on the immediate world in which you operated. These goals, being a great individual in human relationships, and having an impact in whatever you do are the centre piece of a good life.

Which leads me to my other topic – public policy in Canada and your role. I start with a simple proposition – we live in the best country in the world and are truly blessed for being Canadians. No one who has traveled the world can help but be struck by the luck of Canadians – to live in such a rich, tolerant, respectful society where people are so free and able to achieve their potential. But will Canada always be a great country – that’s where you come in.

The world presents lots of risks:

  • The effects of globalization – bringing great economic benefits, but also redistributing wealth in troubling ways. In the western world the benefits of globalization are not going to the average worker. The answer is not protectionism or anti-market activities – but it will require a much more dramatic focus on lowering the tax rates of those at the lowest income levels.
  • Growing environmental concerns – which require immediate actions, but intelligence in their application to ensure we set in motion the power of innovation and the adaptability of the market economy.
  • The new threat of terrorism requiring us to find ways of interacting, and mobilizing all moderate elements around the globe. Simple black and white solutions don’t work; not talking to your enemies is a high risk strategy.

In Canada we face a challenge of slowing productivity growth, and a lack of direction as to our role in the world. We have moved from 3rd to 17th in the O.E.C.D. in standard of living. Our productivity growth is half what the U.S. has had. We need to reframe the debate so Canadians know this is about making them better off. If I walked into one of our branches and said, “Let’s start a productivity drive,” my reception would be pretty cold -- productivity is often thought to be about fewer jobs. Why should I work harder to put me or my colleagues out of work?

But if I say, “Let’s get rid of everything that wastes your time. Tell me what technology would allow you to do your jobs more easily and faster.” And -- importantly – “that if we find savings we’ll re-invest in growth and higher incomes,” I’d get an enthusiastic response. We need to reframe the debate to being one of raising the real income of the average Canadian and improving job opportunities. We will not solve the productivity issue without tough choices. It cannot be just more spending. I worked in Africa for two years in Tanzania where the President had a simple statement about public policy – to plan is to choose. But we must also make these choices relevant to the average person.

We made some tough choices in the 90’s. We decided that governments couldn’t be relevant if they weren’t solvent – so we eliminated the federal deficit and put the Canada Pension Plan on solid footing. In the last few years we have spent that fiscal dividend without focus. Are we sure we have a plan to improve the real incomes of the average Canadian. Lower taxes for the less well-off, not the real incomes of the average Canadian. Lower taxes for the less well off, not for the well to do, reduced employment and capital taxes, reform of unemployment insurance, greater intra-provincial trade and labour mobility and more investment in education are all critical. These are all choices we must make – but it will take your leadership, and a commitment that the productivity gains which follow will go to those who need it most.

Canada had a vision of itself as an important, separate player in the world – staunch ally of the U.S., major donor to the Third World, independent in its values so that many countries saw us as a different North American player. On the social front we decided Gay and Lesbians had the same marriage rights as anyone else. Our charter of rights actually means something.

Recent traumatic events have forced us into new roles. The growth of other nations has made our small relative size more apparent. We have failed to deliver on our aid commitments, and are uncertain as to their value. It is no longer clear that Canadians know what we are – are we the “nice” Americans, do we really care more about the Third World, are we willing to back global initiatives. But we still have a world brand which we shouldn’t lose by neglect, or without thought. We need the energy of youth to demand more vision of what Canada is and should be, and what it stands for in the world.

If we are to solve the issues we face today – we won’t do it by paying off every interest group in the country, or attempting to please with our policies every nation in the world. You have to decide what Canada you want. And after you decide – you have to make your views known. This doesn’t mean that you have to all become politicians. Remember – politicians often follow rather than lead. It’s the people that lead. Nor does this imply that everyone should join the public sector. Having business leaders who can see beyond their narrow interests is critical. So have a view; make an impact – make Canada and the world a better place.

So there you have it – not too painful I hope. You are at the start of a great next phase. Your family and friends are rightly proud. You should be excited. The world is there for the taking. Society, your family, and you have all invested in your capabilities. You can be and do, whatever you want. Take advantage of it. Do something which turns you on. Change the world, wherever you land for the better – and most important of all – enjoy what you are doing. You only go around once.


Executive Headshot :  Ed Clark
Ed Clark
Group President and Chief Executive Officer
TD Bank Group

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