Robert MacIntosh strides any room like a giant crane led by a beaked nose as he forages for familiar faces or food for thought. He may begin with an awkward burst, but in full flight there is effortless ease as a parliamentary witness, in mau-mauing management or striking fear into the hearts of females. “Sit down and shut up,” he would blurt at women nervously entering his sixth-floor nest at The Bank of Nova Scotia. It was but the veneer of contempt, for he assured their growing role in Scotiabank’s shrewd world. “He’s left a big boat wake at this bank,” says one man who has felt his splash.
At 57, Macintosh knew that he would never be the bank’s chief executive officer. Current titleholder Ced Ritchie is 52; Gordon Bell, No. 2 man is 50. There was no place else to grow but out, so, after 27 years, Macintosh is trading his position as Scotiabank executive vicepresident and the 14 functions he oversaw (including 1,800 people in data systems alone) for the $5-million budget, 140-staff Canadian Bankers’ Association. President-designate since April, he becomes the CBA’s first full-time president at its annual meeting in Ottawa this week. With his economics doctorate from McGill, he’ll be spokesman for the 11 chartered banks in Canada, their $235 billion in assets and 152,000 employees. He will oversee Bank Act revisions and drag bankers into the future-shock world of electronic funds transfer. — stud buzzard, as he himself might put it, for stolid bankers.
“Timing in life,” he says, “is such a big thing.” If so, this particular clock began ticking in June, 1978, when Scotiabank’s Bell became CBA president. Since the CBA was created by an act of Parliament in 1900, the banks have taken turns supplying their chief operating officers as part-time association presidents. Bell, who is not comfortable in the public eye, agreed only if Macintosh would handle the Bank Act. That became a frustration for Michael Harrison, then the CBA’s executive director, whose functions Macintosh now picks up. On March 4, Harrison, 50, found his contract was not to be renewed. Says Harrison: “I am well prepared to admit that [the CBA] may deserve better direction than they received from me.” A consulting firm study, commissioned by the bank’s chief executives in 1979, said the CBA needed a banker as full-time president. Harrison’s background was communications. The report also called for someone bilingual who knew the Bank Act. “The list became very short right away,” says Macintosh. “One.” Offered the job in February, he accepted two weeks later. Says Harrison of the precipitative study: “They were killing two birds with one stone.”
“I would say I’ve gone sideways,” says Macintosh. “It’s not up. I don’t have the operational responsibility. But it’s not down, because I have responsibility to the industry for securing good legislation.” His first task is to get C-6, the revised Bank Act, three years behind schedule, passed. Macintosh himself has spent 50 hours as a witness before parliamentary committees during the current round. “The people and the politicians see the banks as very big and multifarious,” he says. “They say, ‘You run your shops well but you’re a threat because you’re so damn big.’ My job is to improve our credibility.”
He began with this feisty reply at his first news conference in April: “If you want to load a question, go ahead, but I’ll put it right on the table what you’re doing, okay? That’s fair enough, eh? Well, I can’t answer a question put that way. ‘Why don’t you stop beating your wife?’ is not a question I can answer, okay?” To others, of course, there is a more lovable side. Says former Scotiabank chairman Tom Boyles: “I always referred to him as the absentminded professor who always kissed the train goodbye and then jumped on his wife.” And praise from a former competitor, Toronto-Dominion Bank Chairman Richard Thomson: “He’ll leave a very significant mark on the banking scene.” There will be a few tricky areas for fancy tongue work, where the banks don’t agree, such as admission of foreign banks to Canada or disclosure of loans to specific foreign countries such as South Africa. But, most of all, he’ll roll on, just being himself. His second wife, Lynn, says: “Bob Macintosh is exactly as he appears to be.” Obstreperous is not too strong a word. “Things are what they appear, eh?” he asks. Then his eyes dance and telegraph his own brash line to come: “I’m well suited to this job.”
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