When Mark Carney takes over as the Governor of the Bank of England on Monday (Canada Day), his every move will be carefully scrutinized and many Britons will still be wondering about this wonder boy from the Northwest Territories who has suddenly become one of the country’s most powerful people.
One group likely won’t be surprised by Mr. Carney’s ascendance: his former classmates, teammates, professors and tutors at Oxford University. While others in Britain may fret about appointing a foreigner to such a critical position for the first time in the bank’s 319-year history, those from Oxford who know him best say much of the groundwork was laid there during his student days more than 20 years ago.
It was at Oxford where Mr. Carney shaped his thinking on economic policy and further developed a devotion to public service. It was at Oxford where he met and married his wife, economist Diana Fox Carney, giving him roots in the country that he no doubt will draw on in his new role. And it was at Oxford where he helped mould a ragtag group of hockey players into a decent enough club to take on a top flight team in Russia.
“I’m not surprised he was named Governor of the Bank of England,” said economics professor Margaret Meyer, who was Mr. Carney’s doctoral supervisor at Oxford’s Nuffield College. “He had the confidence, he’s a quick study. He gets to grips with new ideas new problems, new techniques and new approaches very quickly.”
Mr. Carney arrived at Oxford in 1991, a 26-year old Harvard University graduate who had already spent three years with Goldman Sachs Group Inc., two in London and one in Tokyo, working mainly as an analyst in the credit risk department. He enrolled in the master’s program in economics at St. Peter’s College and finished in two years, then transferred to Nuffield College for his doctorate, which he finished in two years – about about half the time it usually takes.
Transferring to Nuffield, which specializes in social sciences, was in itself a rare accomplishment. Oxford’s 38 colleges run most of their own affairs but the university discourages students from moving from one to another, fearing rich colleges with larger financial endowments, like Nuffield, will poach students from poorer ones, such as St. Peter’s. But Mr. Carney’s grades were high enough to overcome the prohibition.
At Nuffield, Mr. Carney studied globalization and whether governments should take special steps to protect leading companies from domestic competition so that they can compete better internationally. Mr. Carney explored the opposite view – that, in order to have strong national companies, fierce domestic competition was actually essential.
One professor was so impressed with one of his papers, he reportedly took a photocopy and still has it stashed in a filing cabinet. Another professor, economist John Vickers, who examined Mr. Carney’s doctorate in 1995, was in the running for the governorship but lost out to Mr. Carney. “He finished his thesis when I was just about to have my first child. … He was very independent,” Prof. Meyer said. “He was not somebody who required any hand-holding.”
She also recalled that Mr. Carney had developed a keen sense of public service, one which is said to come from his parents, who were both teachers . “He said to me: ‘I’m going to Wall Street for the short term but I’m very determined to enter the policy arena after I’ve gained some experience there.’ He said: ‘I see myself in the medium-term working the policy arena either for a think tank or for an international organization.’”
Outside of academia, hockey was Mr. Carney’s passion. He had played at Harvard, serving as a backup goalie, but that was a long way from Oxford. There, the Oxford Blues were a motley collection of students mainly from Canada, the United States and Europe who were one step above beer-league calibre. There was no coach and the team had to find games with local amateur clubs within a bus ride of town. They practised once a week, if they were lucky, and the only ice time available was around midnight.
Mr. Carney took charge. He organized practices, plotted game strategy and directed players during games as co-captain. He wore no. 1 and didn’t hesitate to call out teammates who were not playing hard enough. “He was no-bullshit, for lack of a better word,” said David Lametti, who was co-captain with Mr. Carney and is now an associate professor of law at McGill University. “When it was time to play he put on his game face and he was a serious player. He gave a lot and he expected others to give 100 per cent as well.”
Former Blues defenceman Ryan Haaland still remembers the time he failed to come to Mr. Carney’s aid when an opposing player took a run at him during the game. Mr. Haaland feared getting a game suspension but Mr. Carney just stood and stared. “He gave me the look,” recalled Mr. Haaland, an associate professor of physics at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. “He has a stare. I knew he was serious.” Mr. Haaland added with a laugh: “It takes a special person to be a goalie.”
Added former Blues forward Trevor Farrow, a law professor at York University: Mr. Carney “wasn’t one of these quirky goalies that had all these funky pregame ceremonies or whatever. He just went and played.”
One event that helped shape the team and Mr. Carney’s near legendary status at Oxford hockey was the annual “varsity match” against Cambridge University, the highlight of the Blues’ season. In 1992, Oxford lost 3-1 but Mr. Carney stopped 40 shots and was named “Man of the Match.” He earned a shutout the following year when the Blues thrashed their archrivals 19-0, still one of the most lopsided victories.
Another highlight was a tour of Russia in 1993. The Blues played five games in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Cherepovets, a remote city known for its giant steel mills. Russia was still emerging from communism and the players got a taste of the early signs of capitalism. While in Cherepovets they faced an elite Russian team sponsored by a steel company and held their own, thanks largely to Mr. Carney’s goaltending. After the game, officials from the company approached the players about drumming up some steel business in Britain, believing the Oxford boys would have solid contacts. They demurred, but the Russian team came to Oxford the following year and the Blues players put the steel officials in touch with some British businesses.
It was through hockey that Mr. Carney also met his wife, who was an Oxford graduate student at the time. She was a star on the women’s hockey team, having only picked up the game as an undergraduate at the university. They met through a mutual friend and got married in a church outside Oxford in 1994. Ms. Carney’s father is a wealthy pig farmer and her sister, Tania, is Lady Rotherwick, having married Robin Cayzer, the third Baron Rotherwick. Their 1,700-acre estate, Cornbury Park which is near Blenheim Palace, is home to an annual rock festival dubbed “poshstock” because it has attracted fans such as Prince Harry, other royals and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
After leaving Oxford in 1995, Mr. Carney returned to Goldman, working in London, New York and Toronto. Ms. Carney earned a master’s in international relations at the University of Pennsylvania and worked at a variety of non-profit groups and think tanks, including Canada 2020. By 2003, Mr. Carney had had enough of the materialism of Bay Street and applied for a job at the Bank of Canada. That led to a stint with the Department of Finance and ultimately to the post as Governor of the Bank of Canada in 2008.
On Monday, he’ll take on a far more challenging role as Governor of the Bank of England with broader powers than almost any central banker in the world. He’ll face a struggling economy, an encumbered banking sector and expectations that are so high some have already called him Superman. There are early signs Mr. Carney will do things differently. He has appointed the bank’s first chief operating officer, former banking executive Charlotte Hogg, and chosen to give his first speech as Governor in Nottingham, eschewing London’s financial district in favour of northern England.
The question now is what happens next? Mr. Carney is only taking the job for five years, leaving many to speculate that he will return to Canada and run for office. For many of the Oxford crowd, that is almost a certainty. “I think he’d consider politics as a public service and so for the right reasons,” said Prof. Lametti. “It’s in character in the sense that he believes in public service.”