Seen and Heard: Leadership in Public Policy with Ed Clark

Shira Brym-Friedland

Skepticism regarding big banks and their leaders abounds in light of the world’s current financial situation. However, after listening to William Edmund “Ed” Clark—President and CEO of TD Bank Group—speak to students and guests of the School of Public Policy and Governance as part of the Leadership in Public Policy Series, we are reminded of what innovative and inspiring leadership looks like.

When asked to discuss what he looks for in a leader, Mr. Clark explained that leaders today over-value short-term performance measures. Mr. Clark sees himself as the custodian of a Canadian institution. As such, he must be willing to take a hit on short-term performance from time-to-time in exchange for the long-term integrity and endurance of the institution he protects. On the same topic he also referred to Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac, who said that the greatest leaders have generosity of spirit. Thus, Mr. Clark does not necessarily look for leaders with the best technical skills, but for leaders who demonstrate sound judgement and an ability to inspire and empathize with people.

These comments led to a discussion of gender differences in leadership. As per Mr. Clark, the traditional model of the alpha-male as leader is becoming obsolete and was proven ineffective by the recent financial crisis. Instead, Mr. Clark stresses the importance of listening. With respect to the alpha-male, Mr. Clark is in favour of a listening work culture, which is often more productive than a telling work culture. For people entering the workforce or taking on a new position in an organization, Mr. Clark’s advice is to spend the first three months in a new job listening and absorbing the dynamics of the new surroundings and culture. A good leader does not need to win all the time; if you only focus on the act of winning, you may fail to hear the actual point.

On the topic of balancing risk and innovation, Mr. Clark suggested it is a mistake to believe that one cannot innovate in the banking industry without taking risks. For example, TD Bank’s customer experience innovations were a risk-free venture that yielded tremendous gains. When risks are taken, they must be manageable to the extent that they do not threaten the bank or harm its brand. Mr. Clark’s rule when determining whether an endeavour would risk the bank’s brand is to ask yourself, “would I sell this to my mother-in-law?”

Mr. Clark graduated from the University of Toronto in 1969, earned his Master’s degree and Doctorate in Economics from Harvard University and received honorary degrees from Mount Allison University and Queen’s University. From 1974 to 1984, Mr. Clark held a number of senior positions in the federal government. In 1985, he joined Merrill Lynch, and in 1988, he was appointed Chairman and CEO of Morgan Financial Corporation, a position he held until he joined Canada Trust Financial Services Inc. in 1991. Mr. Clark was appointed to his current role in December 2002. He received the Order of Canada for his contributions to Canada’s banking industry and his voluntary and philanthropic work. Mr. Clark also received Egale’s Leadership Award in honour of his leadership in supporting Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender communities and the inaugural Catalyst Canada Honour, awarded to people who make a critical and visible difference to women’s advancement. In 2010, Mr. Clark was named Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year and in 2012 he was named as one of the 30 best CEO’s by Barron’s magazine.

His unique perspectives provided an inspiring and refreshing take on modern leadership.

Shira Brym-Friedland is a 2013 MPP candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She also holds a BAH in International Relations from the University of Toronto and a JD from Osgoode Hall. Shira is a member of the Ontario Bar and currently works in the Legal Services Division at the City of Mississauga. She is interested in social, education, and urban policy. 

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