Peter Godsoe 1938-2023
In 1976, when I left the Ottawa office of Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield, I tried to get back into journalism, but no one would have me. I guess they all thought I would somehow promote Tory propaganda in my stories. So I became director of public affairs at the Bank of Nova Scotia. I reported to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Cedric Ritchie so I had a first-hand look at the power politics that dominates the internal affairs of any large corporation.
Among the rising stars was Peter Godsoe who had a Harvard MBA and was working his way ever higher in the organization. Short and cherubic, Godsoe could never dominate a room the way a tall man can, but he had other ways. His main competitor for the top was Scott McDonald, just such a tall man.
In 1975, when Godsoe reported to McDonald, he was put in charge of Latin America, the U.S., and international treasury. Godsoe renamed the organization, calling it Western Hemisphere International Regional Office, or WHIRO for short. That’s where he was when I spent my two years at the bank before joining Maclean’s as business editor.
Godsoe ran WHIRO in a manner I have not seen anywhere since: he made it fun. There were books, cartoons, and jackets. The WHIRO hero award took the form of a crest with a bull on it and a Latin motto which, when translated, meant, “If you don’t have a hernia, you’re not pulling your weight.” The methodology worked. Over a four-year period, the unit’s share of international profits doubled.
Godsoe had fun outside the bank, too. Along with competitors such as Warren Moysey of CIBC and Continental Bank president David Lewis, Godsoe belonged to a thirty-member group whose sole purpose was to play an annual game of golf. The prize was a trophy stolen twenty years earlier from a University of Toronto fraternity bearing a plaque dedicated to Milton Flugelman. Again, there were jackets and a crest with a Latin motto, Numquam super + in numquam, which was translated as “Never up, never in.” The group played at various courses including Toronto Golf, Miami’s Doral, and in Las Vegas.
As CEO of the bank from 1993-2003, Godsoe brought about major progress in Mexico, improved diversity, and made money for shareholders, but when I look back, what I see is a guy who didn’t take himself too seriously and always had time for fun in his life. The business world needs more like him.