Make haste slowly
The just-released memoir by former Bank of Montreal CEO Tony Comper is an unusual achievement. To the best of my knowledge, no other Big Five Bank CEO in the modern era has published a memoir. In “Personal Account,” Comper writes that he didn’t want to follow the usual “when I was three” chronological rendition. Instead, he picked out twenty-five incidents in his business life that demonstrate qualities of leadership or character. Among them is his explanation how he went into banking rather than join the priesthood or become a professor teaching Chaucer.
With help from Calgary-based ghostwriter Bruce Dowbiggin, Comper also describes how he left the path to become a branch manager by accepting an appointment in computer systems even though he took a salary cut. The move paid off; at thirty-two in 1978 he was named a vice-president, the youngest ever in the bank’s history. There are also chapters explaining how he increased the number of female executives and one where he defends CEO compensation, although not too successfully.
(Full disclosure: after his wife Elizabeth died in 2014, LifeTales editor Eloise Lewis and I helped Comper publish Liz’s speeches about FAST, the organization she and Tony had established, Fighting Antisemitism Together.) Comper credits his success in banking to being what he calls a “catastrophizer,” someone who visualizes all the things that could possibly go wrong in a new project and tries to ensure that none of them happen. Another secret to is “to do the right thing” which is hardly novel but all-too-rarely practiced in the business world.
Comper’s philosophy during his forty-year career was “festina lente” translated as “make haste slowly.” It seemed to work. In retirement since 2007, he is a philanthropist, has a real estate portfolio, as well as curators overseeing his art collection and his rare book and first edition library. His goal in life has been to make a difference. With any luck, one of those differences will be to spur others in business to reveal all about their own lives.