Murray Taylor is an anachronism in the often-volatile financial services business: He's just retired from the same employer he started with in 1976. He joined Winnipeg-based Great-West Life at 21, after graduating from the University of Manitoba in actuarial science. The company was owned by a young financier, Paul Desmarais. Over the next three decades, Desmarais's Power Financial group of companies bought more insurers, as well as two mutual fund families, Investors Group and Mackenzie Financial. Taylor was appointed CEO of Investors Group in 2004. Now 60, he left in May.
What did you do during your first few weeks on the job?
I was fascinated by pensions, and Great-West put me in their pension department. It was all defined-benefit plans in those days, and we did valuations for corporate clients. There was a box of computer punch-cards for every client, with one card for every employee. We'd carry the box upstairs to a computer operator and get a big printed report the next day. If the cards got out of order or you'd miskeyed one, they'd have to run another report. During my first year, they put a terminal in our department. You couldn't do anything on it, but you could read the results of your computer run.
You took a break early in your career. Why?
I left for nine months, in 1980, on a very personal journey. I wanted to go to bible school – Mount Carmel, in Edmonton. As a teen, I was quite involved with a church camp called Faith Bible Camp. And I devoted a week of holidays for probably about 25 years to work there.
Has that helped you in business?
One of my greatest lessons in leadership was working with volunteers. People aren't doing what you tell them because you're paying them, but because they are passionate about it.
How did you shift from pensions to mutual funds?
We'd introduced the first segregated fund [the insurance-company version of a mutual fund] that I can recall at Great-West in 1987. It was after Black Monday, October 19, 1987, and at first we thought it might be a horrible mistake. But when's the best time to introduce a new fund? Right after a drop.
The mutual fund sector was very competitive in the 1990s, but a lot of companies faded. Why did Investors and Mackenzie keep growing?
Some of our success in the '90s was fortuitous, because the Big Banks were late getting into mutual funds. But Investors Group has always had a personal approach that's holistic. We have 5,300 consultants, and we train our people to work with the client in all respects.
What's it like to work with the Desmarais family?
I had the privilege of spending time on numerous occasions with Paul Desmarais Sr.; Paul Jr. and André are roughly my age, and I've worked with them in the board and strategic environments almost my entire career. As majority shareholders, they are exemplary. I would include Jeff Orr, our chairman, in that mix, too. They're diligent and deliberate about picking the right leadership. Then they work through the CEOs.
Were there any low points?
No. You get into economic cycles and downturns in the market, but that's what we're here for.
What was your biggest accomplishment?
Back in 2004, we introduced to our consultant network an annual award for lifetime community involvement. We named it after Herb Carnegie. Jean Béliveau said Herb was the best hockey player he had ever seen – they played junior together in the 1940s. But Herb didn't get into the NHL because he was not white. He joined Investors Group and had a 32-year career. And he founded Future Aces, a foundation that helps youth who are challenged. He was, of course, also recognized with the Order of Canada and other awards.