Outstanding CEO: Royal Bank of Canada’s Dave McKay
Sometimes bank executives aren’t what they seem to be. The phrase “chief executive” brings up an image of a stuffy statistics nerd who is focused on achieving goals, expanding company lines, and cutting wasteful spending. The Royal Bank of Canada’s chief executive, Dave McKay, was undoubtedly born into the banking industry. Although you could catch the 59-year-old watching a pick-up game on the basketball courts or jamming out on one of his ten or so guitars when he’s not in the boardroom.
Since beginning a co-op work placement in 1983 while studying computer programming, McKay has worked his way up the ranks. He plays B-ball, plays guitar, and works full-time at RBC. Following weeks of courtship by the other Big Six banks, he most recently won the hand of HSBC Canada, Bay Street’s ballgown-wearing belle, after taking the helm of the nation’s largest bank in 2014. He has also led the acquisition of City National Corp. in 2015, launched a youth-focused skills programme in 2017, and led the acquisition of City National Corp.
These are just a few of McKay’s accomplishments, but as the nation faces the possibility of a recession and develops a coordinated green transition strategy to tackle climate change, he is probably facing his toughest obstacles.
“RBC is one of the world’s most powerful and sophisticated banks, and Dave McKay has elevated its performance to new heights,” said Hugh MacKinnon, chair and CEO of Bennett Jones and chair of Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year Advisory Board. “He is a strong believer in the power of innovation and technology to shape the future of financial services.”
“Dave is that rare and inspiring executive who merges work excellence with dedicated philanthropy,” said John Wallace, CEO of Caldwell. He is dedicated to advancing Canada’s interests both globally and locally, and he is a true champion for issues like climate change, preparing youth for the future of work, and combating workplace inequities.”
FP: How did you survive the recent three-year economic storm?
Dave McKay: It almost invariably brought out the best in Canadians and leaders. More effectively than ever, we collaborate. It brought the government together, including the finance minister, the regulator, and the governors of the banks, as well as the Bank of Canada.
What was the most important lesson you took away from those challenging times?
DM: How tough people can be. We underrate society’s capacity for resiliency as a whole. Society as a whole is incredibly resilient. Whether it was to technology or the risks associated with health care, we quickly adjusted to come together.
If you could go back and offer yourself a piece of advice on day one of taking the CEO role, what would it be?
DM: One quality that has set me apart during my 30-plus year journey through the organisation is that I have always been willing to take chances. But what exactly does it mean to take a risk? Declaring a goal or ambition where failure is obvious is one way I define risk. Is it really a risk, though, if you can take a chance where no one knows about it? Risk, in my opinion, is when something goes well and people notice it or when something goes wrong and people notice it. For something to be a meaningful risk, it must be visible and noticeable. I therefore set a bold goal and publicly declared it as I progressed through my early career.