After Griffiths left, the remaining trio settled into relative stability. McBurney built the firm into a leading adviser to mining and energy companies, just as a commodity boom hit. The fees poured in. Wekerle ran the trading desk and Sullivan took the role of chief executive officer, managing the firm while still doing deals as time allowed.
Wekerle became the best-known trader in Canada, drawing business to GMP using skill, connections and sheer star power. Bankers at rival firms tell of companies including GMP in deals purely in hopes that “Wek” might begin trading their stock.
It lasted a decade, until GMP got so big that the CEO role became all-consuming. The firm’s expansion took it into asset management, retail stockbroking and private equity.
Sullivan, in the midst of helping long-time client Ned Goodman sell DundeeWealth to Scotiabank in 2010, realized how much he missed dealmaking and working directly with clients. He decided to give up the chief executive job and return to his old forte. The board turned to Fricker, who had been with the firm since 2002, working his way up to the position of president.
Less than a year later, Wekerle was gone, too.
Wekerle rolls up his sleeves to show one of his tattoos. It’s an intricate image of a tulip that he had inked in Holland. Tulips, of course, symbolize perhaps the most infamous bubble in financial history. “I look at that, I see a beautiful flower,” Wekerle says. “But in my mind: Be careful.”
Most who followed the firm weren’t surprised when Wekerle’s time at GMP finally ended. There had been rumours that he wasn’t as active on the trading desk. There was talk of hard partying. A video made the rounds online showing Wekerle being escorted off the stage at a roast after interrupting the speaker.
When he and the firm made it official in August, he got a $5-million goodbye; he’ll get half as much again once a two-year non-compete period is completed. Neither side wants to say much about the split.
Where everybody agrees is that in the wake of the sudden death of Wekerle’s wife in the spring of 2009, things changed for the father of five. Fricker says there was a “clear reduction” in Wekerle’s involvement. “That changed his world view,” Fricker says of the tragedy. “He wasn’t that interested or happy coming in and sitting on the desk on a day-to-day basis.”
And the business was changing. The role of the star trader was fading in a world increasingly dominated by computers doing the buying and selling, Fricker says.
Wekerle, now 48, agrees that becoming a widower changed his life. He acknowledges that he no longer had the appetite to work as much, saying he wanted to focus on his kids. And everyone was getting older. “The impact of Michael Wekerle was not the same as it was in the early days,” he says. “The impact of Kevin Sullivan was not the same, because of a bunch of issues, mostly personally related. We were not the guys that were going to work 24-7. We did that for 14 years.”
Wekerle disputes the idea that he was partying too hard. Drinking has always been part of the trading culture; it is useful to competitors, he suggests, to exaggerate his participation in the tradition. “When I go have four beers, I’ve had 24 beers,” he says. As for the infamous video, he calls it “unfortunate”—a late-night prank among friends that went wrong.
Wekerle acknowledges that he pines a bit for the old GMP, where things were smaller, less formal. “I am not as corporately structured,” he says. “Once you pass that Rubicon, you miss it, and I do.”
It only takes a few minutes with Wekerle to see just what he means by “not as corporately structured.” His bespoke suit is tighter than most that you see on Bay Street. That tulip tattoo is just one of a collection that covers not just his arms but also much of his torso. On one wrist, there’s a fancy Chopard watch. On the other, there’s a bracelet of beads—skull-shaped beads.