The sound of a soloist

Standard & Poor’s yesterday dropped its credit rating on Manulife Financial to A+ from AA-. Normally, a one notch fall like that wouldn’t matter much, but in this case, the agency had warned management in advance. S&P didn’t like a plan by Manulife CEO Donald Guloien to reorganize U.S. operations claiming that what he had in mind would reduce the company’s cash flow.

Guloien went ahead anyway, thereby proving that as a leader, he’d rather be a loner than someone who just plays along. You can see that personality trait in his music. Guloien’s father and his many aunts and uncles are all musical. A cousin, who took the stage name P.J. Perry, plays bebop saxophone and has won two Juno awards. Guloien also plays the sax, but admits he has no sense of rhythm or timing, so he can’t perform in a band. Twenty years ago, when he was taking lessons, his teacher told him to leave his sax at home. In an attempt to improve his errant timing, Guloien spent the next few lessons clapping his hands to a machine with flashing strobe lights. “You’re hopeless. I’ve got a three-year-old who could do better,” said the instructor. “Are you really trying?”

Guloien told me that his self-confidence was eroded and he stopped playing the sax for a while. “Then I thought, ‘I never intended to play in a band anyway. I don’t have the time. The hell with him.'” Guloien bought a sopranino, a small sax with a high, shrill sound that doesn’t carry very far. In those days, he’d take the instrument when he traveled on business. In the evening, he’d relax by playing in his hotel room, all by himself, confident that he was not disturbing the other guests.

The man has not changed in the years since. No ratings agency is going to call the tune for him.

1 Response

  1. Saran S. says:

    Really great post Rod. Didn’t know Mr. Guloein played the sax during his childhood years.

    I just finished reading your book on Dominic. Love the detailed coverage. Keep up the great work.

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