You can bank on it
The first book I ever wrote was called The Moneyspinners: An Intimate Portrait of the Men Who Run Canada’s Banks. Published in 1983, it had chapters on each of the Big Five Bank Chairmen and Chief Executive Officers: Rowland Frazee of the Royal, Bill Mulholland of Bank of Montreal, Richard Thomson at TD, CIBC’s Russell Harrison and Cedric Ritchie of the Bank of Nova Scotia. Writing about businesspeople was so novel at the time that there were individuals who were shocked to find themselves quoted, even though I came to their offices, explained what I was doing and turned on my tape recorder for the interview that followed.
Some access was so unique it has never been repeated by anyone. I asked Dick Thomson if I could follow him around for a day to see what he did in his role. “You don’t want to sit in the back of a limousine,” he said. “Why don’t you come to a board meeting?” I couldn’t believe my luck. Our deal was that he got to read my draft but if he asked for changes with which I disagreed, I could withdraw and nothing would be published. I submitted my work and the changes requested involved just technical accuracies. The book was a runaway success and appeared on the Maclean’s best seller list for many weeks.
And so when CIBC asked me to produce Volume V of the bank’s history, I was happy to be writing about banking again. Four other authors had written the earlier volumes. One of them was Arnold Edinborough, editor of Saturday Night magazine, so I was in good company. I was to cover the years 1973-1999 when the CIBC CEOs included Page Wadsworth, Russ Harrison, Don Fullerton and Al Flood, each with a very different leadership style. But this book is not just about head office. I did extensive research in the bank’s archives and conducted 150 interviews to ensure that all levels of the bank were explored from the branch to the executive suite. There are also chapters, for example, on how both technology and the rise of female executives have changed everything.
The book, my twentieth, is now finished and will be published this fall by ECW Press, a Toronto-based independent house. In addition to hard cover print, there will also be digital and audio versions. The French edition comes out in December. I enjoyed spending time with bankers and presenting their stories, successful and otherwise. I hope you will, too.