As consolation prizes go, it’s a sweet one. On July 1, Tiff Macklem will become dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. At the Bank of Canada, he had been second-in-command under Mark Carney. Yet when Carney became governor of the Bank of England last year, the Harper government chose Stephen Poloz to replace him. Macklem, 52, now has another set of big shoes to fill–those of management guru Roger Martin. But after 25 tumultuous years in Ottawa, Macklem boasts wide shoe prints of his own.
So were you headhunted for the Rotman job?
I got a call, yes, and I said, ‘Interesting.’ It went on from there.
What really drew you in?
The idea of working in education seemed very compelling. It is critical to our economic and financial prosperity. And Rotman and U of T are world-class research institutions. It is a place where I can continue to think about the things that have captured me for a long time–with a new freedom and a whole bunch of smart colleagues.
Is it daunting to take over from a giant?
The good news is that Roger is still [at Rotman], running the Martin Prosperity Institute. He will be a great resource. I’m not going to try to be Roger. Of course, I’m daunted. But if you aren’t a little scared, you aren’t excited. I do my best work when I’m scared.
What unique skills and connections do you bring to the table?
Being a G20 deputy during the 2008-2009 financial crisis was a defining experience. If we ever needed a reminder that Canada is not an island, that was it. Regardless of your views on globalization, you have to understand it and realize that it is a key input for any business. In addition, Rotman has been very connected to Queen’s Park. Getting the school more connected to Ottawa would be a bonus both for Ottawa and for Rotman.
Was the financial crisis your scariest period?
It was gut-wrenching and life-changing. We were looking over the abyss. The good news is central banks and governments around the world took bold action, made huge unlimited commitments and it worked. When you look back, you think that it was the most exciting thing you have ever done. But you never want to be there again.
Can you convince Rotman’s young MBAs that government can be exciting work?
If the financial crisis and the recession don’t convince people of the importance of government and sound public policy, nothing will. A lot of businesses that would usually look at government as a nuisance were begging for assistance. Government’s job is to fill gaps when the market is failing, and the market was failing in the crisis, so government had to move in. As the market comes back, the government needs to pull back, and I think we’ve done that successfully.
Will you remind students that the crisis stemmed from irrational exuberance in the markets where many of them will be employed?
Memories in financial markets are often too short. We have a responsibility to keep telling people how dark it was, so they won’t forget.
Are you going to be an armchair quarterback and comment on the Bank of Canada’s policies?
I’ll do my best to resist, but I do care deeply about these issues. We’ll see how long I can hold out. Roger has built the dean of Rotman into a very important position. I will try to use it wisely.
Do you feel content with how things turned out?
One door closes, another door opens.
This interview has been condensed and edited.