One-on-One with Mark Carney (2/3)

He works behind the scenes. Most Canadians don’t recognize him. But as governor of The Bank of Canada, Mark Carney steered us through the global financial crisis. Meet our man of the year.

The Early Days

The Early Days

Mark Carney was born on March 16, 1965, in Fort Smith, N.W.T., the third of four children. His family lived in a yellow house near the high school where his father, Bob, was principal. His mother, Verlie, stayed home with the children, making fur-lined parkas to keep them warm. When Carney was six, his family left the North and settled in Edmonton. Bob got a job as a public servant in Indian and Northern Affairs with the Alberta government, and later as a professor of education history at the University of Alberta. When Mark was ten, Verlie went back to university to redo her degree in teaching and then returned to the classroom. “Our house was filled with books,” the governor recalls, “and there was lots of discussion on the issues of the day.”

In 1984 Carney’s life took on a more global direction. At the age of 18 he left Edmonton and headed to Cambridge, Mass., on a partial scholarship at Harvard University. He intended to study English literature and math. But while attending lectures by the Canadian-born economist John Kenneth Galbraith, he found a new interest and eventually majored in economics, graduating with high honours.

In his downtime at Harvard, he played hockey on the university team (though “not particularly well,” he says) and continued to read widely. Known around campus as an extremely bright and disciplined student, Carney was also “very good with money,” his former roommate remembers. “He was on financial aid,” says Chiarelli, “and he’d watch his pennies, always worrying about maintaining his grades for his scholarship.” In the summers, when other classmates would travel to France or Italy, the Edmontonian would return to his parents’ house and work as a landscaper for a local hospital. He also took a semester off from his degree so he could work full-time to build up his tuition fund.

This financial acumen shaped his path after graduation: Though he had planned to pursue an academic life like his father and continue on to grad school in economics, the tab he had rung up for his American education led him to finance. “I felt it would be better to work for a few years and pay that off,” he explains of the “exorbitant amount of money” he owed. Just how much? “That’s a bit personal. But I paid it off—I’m very trustworthy,” he says, with a smile.

After graduation, Carney took a job with Goldman Sachs in London, England, and then Tokyo, working in progressively senior positions. But by 1991 the ivory towers of academia beckoned. Carney left the investment bank to earn his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Oxford in the U.K. There, he met his wife, Diana Fox, a British economist specializing in Third World development. They married in 1995, and while Carney was finishing his thesis—which he had planned to parlay into a job in policy—Goldman Sachs came calling again.

Carney was offered a position as co-head of sovereign risk for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, a role that would see him advising countries on their credit ratings and entry to international capital markets. It was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.

In 1998 Carney was ready to return to North America, and got a transfer to New York, where he stayed until 2000 before asking to be moved to Toronto, since he wanted to start his family in Canada. (He now has four daughters, all under the age of ten, and guards their privacy ferociously.)

After a few years on Bay Street—a culture, he claims, that was ultimately too materialistic for his liking—he caught the eye of David Dodge, then Bank of Canada governor. Carney had no experience in central banking, but Dodge was impressed by the 38-year-old academic and businessman and reportedly even told a friend, “I just hired my successor.” In 2003 Carney joined the Bank of Canada as deputy governor.

Taking the post meant giving up a multi-million-dollar annual salary for a job that paid under $400,000. But this was the opportunity Carney had been preparing for most of his life. “From my father I learned the value of education and hard work,” he says. “Those virtues come in handy, particularly if you’re a public servant and have to work through difficult times.” Those virtues were tested almost immediately. In the fall of 2007, just as Carney was appointed to his current post, the global economic system began to unravel. As Don Drummond, economics advisor and former chief economist at TD Bank, put it, “There’s usually not an awful lot of noise at the bank. Things go along at a leisurely pace. During the crisis, however, people were working seven days a week, getting up at 6 a.m. on a Sunday.”

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