It was Labour Day, 1981, and Stephen Poloz was in bind. A PhD student in his mid-20s, Mr. Poloz was due to start a full-time job at the Bank of Canada the next day – but suddenly realized he’d come to Ottawa without a tie. Everything was closed. So he hopped on to an airport shuttle, and finally found one – an expensive hand-knit tie at a travel boutique.
Now, three decades later, Mr. Poloz has again completed a considerable detour to achieve his ultimate goal: to become Governor of the Bank of Canada.
But Mr. Poloz, who takes over from Mark Carney next month, is stepping into his dream job at a time of widespread global uncertainty.
The world’s central bankers played a key role in saving the global economy from complete collapse during the Great Recession. But, with the taps of monetary policy still gushing, growth remains weak and concerns are mounting about how central bankers and governments can manage their way out of this era of sluggishness without endangering their fragile economies.
“The real challenge is that fiscal policy is pretty much spent [as governments try to deleverage] and monetary policy is pretty much spent, and the economy is decelerating and maybe going into a recession,” says Tony Boeckh, former publisher of the International Bank Credit Analyst where Mr. Poloz spent three key years as managing editor in the late 1990s. “So what do you do? There aren’t a lot of levers to pull. He’ll have to do some unconventional things, and the fact he’s the new guy on the job won’t make it easy for him.”
Mr. Poloz returns to the bank after a three-act career that has supplied him, colleagues say, with a degree of well-roundedness and considerable outside experience, putting him on par with other past governors, notably John Crow, David Dodge and Mr.Carney.
The 57-year old Mr. Poloz, a third generation Ukrainian Canadian whose father worked as a mould maker, grew up in Oshawa, Ont., cutting lawns, working part-time in the record department at the local Eaton’s department store and spinning records as a local DJ on weekends. He earned degrees at Queen’s University and University of Western Ontario, returning home every weekend in a 1967 silver Chevrolet Impala and staying close to his high-school sweetheart, with whom he has two children.
“I would not be where I am had it not been for her,” Mr. Poloz said Friday through a spokesman.
Act 1 of Mr. Poloz’s career was a successful stint at the central bank, which saw him head its research department and serve on its key monetary policy review committee. Former colleagues say he was an easy-going, charismatic colleague and hands-on boss with a sharp sense of humour and a flair for collaborating and thinking creatively about economics and policy – a reputation that followed him throughout his career.
“He’s super smart, but he’s an everyday guy,” said Doug Williamson, a leadership consultant who works with Mr. Poloz’s team at EDC.
One former Bank of Canada colleague said Mr. Poloz routinely sought to sneak clever turns of phrase and hidden puns into bank reports.
Mr. Poloz also sensed he wouldn’t achieve his goal of becoming governor if he stayed, so in the spring of 1996, he moved to Montreal-based International Bank Credit Analyst, to become managing editor.
“I think it was a fantastic experience because it really put him in touch with global forces that were becoming important in the 1990s,” Mr. Boeckh said.
Act 2 was quite a change of pace from the central bank, said Mr. Boeckh, who himself had spent five years working there in the 1960s.
“The Bank of Canada is a very conservative organization. You get marks for being a smart analyst, but there’s no incentive for sticking your neck out. At BCA, we were dealing with clients managing $10-billion saying ‘Tell me what do with my money.’ It’s a whole different mindset where you’re paid for your insights and sticking your neck out.”
Mr. Poloz managed to make the dry subject matter engaging, with clever headlines and snappy language.