Michael Babad, the author of a popular Globe and Mail business column and an affable editor who directed business reporters at major Canadian newspapers during a 43-year career, died Thursday following complications from lung cancer. He was 66.
His daily Globe column, Business Briefing, was a roundup of the latest outlooks from economists and financial analysts. It was read on Bay Street but also by laypeople to whom it made market news more accessible.
“We appreciated the work he did in keeping tabs on the economy and passing on the Street’s insights to Globe readers. His readers will miss him,” said Avery Shenfeld, chief economist of CIBC Capital Markets.
“His contributions to journalism in Canada were vast and will not be forgotten,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter.
“If you read Mike’s column in the morning, you were set up for everything that came up for the rest of the day or the week,” said Brett House, deputy chief economist at Scotiabank.
Mr. House said that his firm trusted Mr. Babad to interview analysts who didn’t have media experience because, as an interviewer, Mr. Babad asked probing questions but was scrupulous and had empathy for his interlocutor.
Globe publisher Phillip Crawley paid tribute to Mr. Babad, noting his strength of spirit in the 12 months he faced cancer. “He was an excellent journalist but an even better man. We mourn for him and his family.”
In Mr. Babad’s columns, news about oil prices, interest-rate forecasts and GDP numbers were leavened with eclectic, whimsical items with tangential financial connections.
These were not idle digressions but opportunities to share nuggets of knowledge.
For example, a 2012 piece began with tongue-in-cheek discussion about whether Iceland should drop its ailing currency and adopt the Canadian dollar. Then it segued into explanations about seigniorage (the revenue from minting currency), the difference between Canadian and German monetary policies, and whether Bjork’s music would meet enough of the CRTC criteria to qualify as Canadian content if she was paid in loonies. (It wouldn’t.)
“Mike Babad was at the very heart of The Globe and Mail’s journalism. Empathetic, accurate, charming, competitive and happiest when learning and teaching,” said The Globe’s editor-in-chief, David Walmsley.
The columns stemmed from morning memos that Mr. Babad once took upon himself to draft for Globe editors to update them on economic and business events.
Mr. Babad would “breathe life into the bland business of economic statistics,” Wall Street Journal correspondent Jacquie McNish, a former Globe reporter, recalled.
“He could condense the significance of a Bank of Canada study or a corporate annual report into two tart sentences.”
He usually was pithy without being nasty. However he could be biting when something in the corporate world offended his sense of decency.
He excoriated Caterpillar Inc., which asked for large pay cuts at its London, Ont., locomotive plant, then locked out the employees before shutting down the factory, putting hundreds out of work.
“Of course it was going to fail at the bargaining table, which you'd expect when you're demanding wage cuts of up to 50 per cent,” he wrote.
Another column, weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, looked at companies that were too prompt to discuss the impact of the terrorist attacks on their business.
“Emerging from the rubble were incredible tales of tragedy, despair, courage, love. And the CEO of Heineken is talking about the impact on the beer market.”
Mr. Babad was also an editor and an early convert to digital journalism, and he was in charge of The Globe’s website in the morning. That meant arriving before dawn, writing his briefings, contacting reporters and starting the triage of what would become the day’s news.
Eric Reguly, The Globe’s Rome-based correspondent, was a long-time friend and frequent interlocutor during those mornings.
“He would call me in Rome all the time, not to give me an assignment, but just to chat, to see how I was doing, to ask about my kids,” Mr. Reguly said. “The calls were of course genuine and from the heart, but their true genius was to build a tight bond with me. In that sense, working for Mike was not really work. It was sort of like returning a small favour to a buddy.”
Before he was a morning web person, he had spent two decades managing writers at The Globe, the Financial Post and the Star.
It started with his eye for stories.
Richard Blackwell, a former Globe reporter, said that Mr. Babad once noticed in 2009 that a publicly traded funeral home company had a bad financial quarter because of fewer deaths.
He asked Mr. Blackwell to check into it, and it turned into an intriguing article detailing how the funeral industry, once a safe investment haven during a recession, was struggling with an unexpected drop in deaths across North America.
Paul Waldie, The Globe’s European correspondent, was a new reporter at the Financial Post in the early 1990s when Mr. Babad handed him a pink telephone message slip with the number of a lawyer scribbled down. “I think something is up with the McCains” the editor said with a smile. “Why don’t you check it out.”
Mr. Waldie spent the next three years covering the family feud that pitted Wallace McCain against his brother Harrison and nearly brought down the McCain Foods empire.
In an industry with no shortage of stress, abrasive personalities and cynical attitudes, Mr. Babad remained unflappable, friendly and earnest as he stayed late at the office, shepherding reporters while deadlines loomed.
An e-mail saying “How is this for a top?” was his way of suggesting a rewrite of a poorly crafted article. He sometimes called his wife, Catherine Mulroney, also a veteran journalist, to check a turn of phrase with her.
He could make small talk while editing sensitive stories. Globe reporter Karen Howlett remembered one evening when Mr. Babad pored over a story she had co-written with Ms. McNish. They mentioned that a Halloween costume Ms. Howlett had given to Ms. McNish’s son was too tight. “Just open up the back seam,” Mr. Babad said without looking up from his keyboard.
The social niceties came as he pushed reporters to go the extra mile. In 2002, Ms. Howlett and a colleague heard about the imminent collapse of Teleglobe Inc., a one-time stock-market darling. They had information from several banking sources, but Mr. Babad nudged them for further corroboration.
Running out of Bay Street sources to contact, Ms. Howlett phoned the judge overseeing the restructuring, who confirmed that the company would appear before him to seek bankruptcy protection.
Howard Michael Babad was born on Jan. 30, 1954, in Toronto, the youngest of the four children of Murray, a tailor, and Bessie, a bookkeeper.
His mother wanted him to become a psychiatrist, but she was also a book lover who inculcated in him an appreciation for the written word.
After graduating in journalism from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in 1977, he got his first job at the Oshawa Times, east of Toronto. He was the labour reporter, a key job because of the local automobile industry. He witnessed the impact of layoffs and strikes, which honed his sense of fairness and social justice, Ms. Mulroney said.
Mr. Babad’s columns, years later, reflected that attitude, often spotlighting the impact of rising housing prices and high debts on Canadian families.
Mr. Babad joined the United Press International news agency in 1983, as a Toronto-based correspondent and editor. But UPI was in the midst of financial troubles and within five years he moved to the Financial Post to be an editor.
He and his wife, Ms. Mulroney, co-authored three books.
Campeau: The Building of an Empire, published in 1989, was a biography of the flamboyant real estate developer Robert Campeau.
In 1993, Pillars: The Coming Crisis in Canada’s Financial Industry, a look at the impact of deregulation on the financial sector’s four historically separate pillars (banks, insurance, trusts and investment dealers), was a finalist for a National Business Book Award.
In the fall of 1994, Mr. Babad joined The Globe. He and Ms. Mulroney also completed their third book, Where the Buck Stops: The Dollar, Democracy and the Bank of Canada, an examination of the historical record of the country’s central bank.
In 2004, Mr. Babad moved to the Toronto Star as an editor, then briefly worked as an economics writer.
Mark Heinzl, who was the business editor, recalled that Mr. Babad came back from a car trip in the United States and noticed that, while the Canadian dollar traded above par against the American currency at the time, toll bridges were still charging more for drivers paying in loonies. “It was classic Mike to notice an oddity like that, and he turned it into this lovely little story,” said Mr. Heinzl, who is now a senior business editor at The Globe and Mail.
After three years, Mr. Babad returned to The Globe, however, “The Globe was his natural home,” Ms. Mulroney said.
Happily leaving behind managerial responsibilities, he focused on writing his column and helming the website in the morning.
To a new generation of younger Globe colleagues, he was the avuncular figure who made the newsroom less intimidating, greeting everyone and punctuating internal memos with Photoshopped pictures of top managers in silly hats.
“Seemed like no matter how early my shift started, his started earlier. … He made me feel not just welcome, but really, truly valued,” said Rosa Saba, who, out of journalism school, worked a summer at The Globe as a digital editor.
He still worked hard hours, starting at 5 a.m. or earlier. Jim Sheppard was the evening web editor in June, 2016, when Britain voted on the Brexit referendum. It made for a late night for Mr. Sheppard. “The next thing I knew, Mike was standing beside me, his usual coffee pot in his hand, at 3 a.m., ready and raring to go.”
Cancer forced Mr. Babad to curtail his activities, although he still wrote his column, the last one appearing a week before his death.
He leaves his wife, Ms. Mulroney, and four children, Jake, Luke, Molly and Charlotte.