Banker with a social conscience

When I was researching the first book I ever wrote, The Moneyspinners published in 1983, some of the CEOs of the Big Five Banks didn’t know quite what to make of me. Russell Harrison of CIBC declined my interview requests with utter disdain. Others gave me hours of their time, and revealed their innermost thoughts. Rowland Cardwell Frazee, Chairman and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, was among the latter group. Frazee died on July 29. He was 86. Frazee was the first of the chairmen I wrote about to invite me on his plane, a Lockheed Jetstar. I...

Read More ....

Dining on feedback

Even famous writers need appreciative readers. Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, once said to his wife after she made what she believed were helpful comments on one of his drafts: “I don’t want your criticism, I want your praise.” Of all the people who’ve so far read Fantasy in Florence, the highest praise has come from a friend who enjoyed the last chapter best. “It’s a love story,” she said. “I cried at the end.” What author could hope for anything more! As a writer, I also work hard to get things right, so it has been a...

Read More ....

The cost of Confederation

Michael Moore’s new movie “Sicko” favorably compares the Canadian health care system with the U.S. He reduces wait-times in our emergency rooms to mere moments, a nosestretcher equal to his claim in “Bowling for Columbine” that in crime-free Toronto everyone leaves their front door unlocked. Despite Moore’s ridiculous comparisons, we Canadians are nothing if not morally righteous about how much better off we are compared to Americans. Behind our phony facade, however, lurks a day-to-day dilemma that should have us up in arms: how much more expensive it is to live here than in the U.S. There’s been a lot...

Read More ....

What’s it all about, Edgar?

It was only a matter of time before Edgar Bronfman Jr. sold his magnificent Upper East Side townhouse. Nothing in his life lasts for long. After Edgar Jr. married his second wife, Clarissa, in 1994, the next year he paid $4.375 million for what had been a five-storey nine-unit apartment building on 64th Street in the same block as Donatella Versace and Ivana Trump. Edgar Jr. and Clarissa spent two years on the design, two years on construction, finally moving in 1999 to the thirty-one foot wide home with its two-and-a-half story atrium containing a life-size Nigerian fertility statue. Three...

Read More ....

Top Ten Secrets of Life

Numerous people have asked for a copy of my speech last month on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from The University of Western Ontario. Here it is, minus a few minutes of introductory remarks: Convocation may seem like an ending, but it isn’t. It’s what you learn next that counts, and then what you learn after that. So here’s what you can learn today – here are my top ten secrets of life. Secret #1: Choose well. I’m talking about picking your spouse, partner, significant other, whatever description fits best in your case. This is absolutely the most...

Read More ....

All sails set

I see Galen Weston the Younger is planning to launch an ad campaign next week in which he will be front and centre as the official Loblaw spokesman. There’s been a lot of foofaraw comparing him to Dave Nichol, but the more interesting comparison is familial. If G2, as he is known around the office, wanted to set himself apart from the previous generation, he couldn’t have chosen a better way to do it. For years G2’s father, W. Galen Weston, kept a low profile, and for good reason. In 1983, seven armed members of the IRA showed up at...

Read More ....

The gift that keeps on giving

Hurrah for Frank Giustra! Not only has the Vancouver merchant banker set a new standard for corporate giving – US$100 million plus half what he earns from resources for the rest of his life – he has twisted a lot of competitors’ arms to join him in fighting poverty in the developing world. Philanthropy used to be more commonplace at the end of a corporate career. Geezers would see the face of death and then try to redeem a lifetime of greed by lavishing money on something, anything, at the last minute. Like a lot of young people in North...

Read More ....

The end of the beginning

As the Conrad Black trial comes to an end, the question arises: has the prosecution proved its case? Certainly, David Radler was not the star witness he was meant to be. Some of his answers contradicted his earlier recollections and, in particular, he was made to look well aware of his sentencing arrangements even though he said he was in the dark when he cut his deal. Yes, Black’s lawyer Eddie Greenspan seemed to score points making Radler look like a liar, but did he go too far? Did the jury tire of the tactic? Still, nobody likes a rat....

Read More ....