A woman’s place

HBO’s “Succession” is all about which one of his offspring would succeed the feisty founder Logan Roy. In fact, the autocrat’s belligerent handling of the topic gave the four-season television series its vigour. CEOs of the big five Canadian banks cannot conduct any such shenanigans. In those institutions, succession must be as smooth as a kitten’s wrist.
That’s why eyebrows popped in 2022 when the board of Scotiabank chose a director, Scott Thomson, to become president, then president and CEO in 2023. To be sure, the board makes the final decision to appoint the CEO, but I cannot recall any other occasion in modern banking history when the directors picked one of their own.
More typical Scotiabank behavior occurred when Ced Ritchie retired as CEO in 1993 and long-time designated heir Peter Godsoe took over. Scott McDonald had also been in the running for a while, but must have realized it wasn’t going to be him because he left the bank in 1987 well before the transition occurred.
Today, bank shareholders are pressing to be part of the process. No CEO should stay too long, they say. At TD Bank, Bharat Masrani has been CEO for ten years, so attendees at the TD annual meeting earlier this month were expecting an announcement on succession. None was forthcoming. The closest Masrani came was to say that there were “very detailed and robust succession plans across the bank.” My bet is that there will be an announcement at or before the next annual meeting.
At CIBC, Victor Dodig is facing a similar anniversary as Masrani, ten years at the top. At CIBC’s annual meeting last week, Dodig went so far as to offer the names of three bank executives as possible successors. “This is a team sport,” he told the Globe and Mail. “This is about the baton. Sometimes you hold it on your own for a while, but you hand it over.”
My substantial problem with CEO succession at all of the big five banks is that there is a scarcity of women in the running. Like Masrani and Dodig, at Royal Bank David McKay has been CEO for ten years. Jacynthe Côté has been board chair for only a year, but was previously CEO at Rio Tinto Alcan, so she has experience in the CEO role. Maybe the Royal board of directors could pull a Scotiabank and not only designate one of their own as CEO, but pick a woman as well. Wouldn’t that be leadership, both for Côté and the bank.


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