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Fred Ketchen hangs up his trader’s jacket

Many Canadians' first exposure to equity investing came from a dapper silver-haired gent delivering market reports from the Toronto Stock Exchange. Fred Ketchen's live spots on TV and radio made him a household name from the 1970s onward. But that was a small part of life in the trenches as a clerk, trader, equity trading manager, and a governor and chairman of the TSE. The 77-year-old Ketchen, now director of equity trading for ScotiaMcLeod, will retire in May from a career spanning six decades and a revolution in trading—from a raucous exchange floor to the quiet glow of thousands of screens.

Did you start going to the TSE floor as a baby?

My father worked for the old TSE at 234 Bay St., and they used to trade on Saturdays half the day. I would get transported there by my father. I'd go into the gallery and watch these idiots running around, yelling, waving stuff, throwing stuff on the floor. This is some kind of a business, I thought.

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Did you want to be part of it?

I had a summer job in high school as a board marker. Every brokerage had a number, and if someone had the lowest offer on a stock, [their number] would go up there. This was no sit-down job—it was noisy and exciting, there were arguments, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Do you miss the trading floor?

I do. I still have my trading jacket from McLeod Young Weir [acquired in 1987 by Bank of Nova Scotia]. It is the McLeod tartan. If you were looking for a McLeod trader, you could pick him out in a hurry.

When I first joined, the market closed at 3:30 p.m. You would go down to the Cork Room at Wellington and Bay, which was where the lies were told, and the stories got bigger and bigger depending on how late you stayed.

Didn't you originally want to be journalist?

I liked writing, and after high school, I went to Carleton University for journalism. But in a family with six children, money became a problem. I spent a year there and decided to go home. I wrote some things for The Wall Street Journal, and then I got a real job on the stock exchange floor as a post clerk and then a trader.

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How did you get into the broadcasting sideline?

Big Mouth, they call me. I once had a part-time job at a radio station in Oakville, as the Saturday night disc jockey. They didn't have an operator—you learned to play the records yourself and read the ads. That DJ job meant a bit of experience.

But at the exchange, you really had to know your stuff. I paid attention, because I wanted to make sure I didn't make a fool of myself.

Did you ever fumble as a trader?

They once handed me an order to sell 7,500 shares of Bell Telephone—then a fairly large order. I went out and worked hard to do it. But then they said, "Fred, that wasn't a sell order. It was a buy order."

What was your most exciting moment?

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I was nominated and elected to the board of governors of the TSE. That was recognition—and three years later, I became chairman. All that for a guy who didn't finish university. I still get hissed at by some people because I was chairman when the decision was made to close the trading floor [in 1999]. They blame me in part, but it was the board's decision, not mine.

Did you feel personal loss?

It was the way I had come to know the stock exchange and to relate to the people there. Lives changed, and for some, it meant losing employment. Today, when I sit on the trading desk, the noise is gone—all the shouting and screaming, and silly games. But it is not a static business—something is happening all the time. It is on a screen, and you are managing orders from clients.

Why did you stay around so long?

I didn't have anything else to do. There is family and neighbours, and I do a fair amount of charitable work. But I've got to find out something to keep me busy. You can't sit around and let the moss grow up your legs.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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About the Author
Senior Writer, Report on Business

Gordon Pitts is an author, public speaker and business journalist, with a focus on management, strategy, and leadership. He was the 2009 winner of Canada's National Business Book Award for his fifth book, Stampede: The Rise of the West and Canada's New Power Elite. More


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