Staying in character

In a week of bad to so-so news from the banks, one story stands out. Ed Clark, CEO of TD Bank, today announced he will exercise some $20 million in options, keep 15 per cent for himself in bank shares, give away $8 million to charity and use the rest of the money to pay for the cost of the options as well as taxes owing.

Of all the definitions of leadership that I’ve ever heard, this ranks with the best.

Clark started his working life as the most reviled bureaucrat ever to offend business. As a public servant in the Trudeau government, he was blamed for being the author of the 1980 National Energy Program.

For us nationalists, the NEP’s goals seemed eminently sensible: energy security, redistribution of wealth and more Canadian ownership of the oil and gas sector. Business leaders and Alberta fought over who hated him the most. Clark won the Outstanding Civil Servant Award.

Next stop in Clark’s unusual career path was Merrill Lynch, followed by president and CEO of Canada Trust. TD Bank bought Canada Trust, Clark in tow, and he was soon running the bank.

When TD and CIBC proposed a merger in 1998, the published list of officers-to-be had Clark in the top role. For CIBC it wasn’t so much of a merger as a succession strategy. Only Matt Barrett, among recent Canadian Big Five CEOs, has run two banks. Clark almost became the second to cross that chasm.

And now this. Red Ed, his foes called him in the NEP days. In their minds he was a socialist. Well, it turns out they were right. Ed Clark has found a new way to redistribute wealth.

May others follow his lead.

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