Winning isn't importantit's everything

November 2 1998


Winning isn't importantit's everything

November 2 1998




Winning isn't importantit's everything

With Titans, Peter C. Newman completes his trilogy on The Canadian Establishment, a project the award-winning writer began a quarter of a century ago. Much has changed since then, especially the nature of the established. Newman, a former editor of Maclean’s and a regular columnist with the magazine since 1982, uses colorful anecdotes and exclusive interviews to show how the essentially merit-based Establishment of today has usurped power from the moneyed aristocracy of the 1970s and 1980s. Titans is Newman's 20th book.

If men are from Mars and women from Venus, the Titans who are taking over the Canadian Establishment are from Pluto. They are not just another, younger cadre of the rich and powerful who made up the original elite that I wrote about a quarter century ago; they are a different breed.

There was a time in this country when there existed an almost mystical constellation of the powerful; men who could move markets; will company towns into existence or crush them into oblivion. They decided who got what and when. They were tough, but cared about their country and considered public service a reward instead of a punishment. Their power was as specific as

pieces on a chess board, and it was passed on from one generation to the next without fuss or notice.

No more. Privileged birth, the best private schools and membership in the premier lunching clubs—the criteria that once mattered— don’t carry much weight any more. In every branch of human endeavor except politics, Canada has become a full-blown meritocracy.

You are what you’ve done. Only personal achievement grants contenders a place in the New Canadian Establishment that reigns over the 1990s economy.

The men and, alas, not nearly enough women, who have grabbed the power that counts have earned their way into contention. They

Reprinted with permission from Titans, copyright Peter C. Newman, published by Penguin Canada, Toronto.


are so dramatically different from their predecessors because meritocracies can’t be choosy. It’s effort, luck and chutzpah that determines the Titans’ ranks, not bloodlines, gracious manners or social conscience. Good breeding, it turns out, is for horses. These guys place calls while making love. The New Establishment is a floating crap game. Anybody can join. What counts is the margin by which your enterprise will exceed its previous quarterly earnings.

The Old Establishment was a club; the New Establishment is a network. The networks that keep these freshly minted Titans connected are like greased-lightning telephone exchanges. Their users are birds on a wire, fast on both feet, corporate acrobats operating without a net. These post-modern Titans of the Info Age are joined more by their cell phones than by any sense of belonging. Their ever-shifting allegiances build empires without blueprints, as they feel their way up the corporate food chains. The Titans’ motto is simplicity itself: “Whatever Works.”

These new “Masters of the Universe,” a phrase coined by American writer Tom Wolfe,

'Conrad is sitting there like the king of England’

know whom to trust and whom to betray, which deals will fly and which won’t. How to get that IPO done before the CEO loses his marbles.

“If you’ve paid your debts in this town, you’re Establishment,” says Ron Coleman, the real brains behind Bobby Brown’s reign at Home Oil and now a successful money man, talking to me in Calgary’s Petroleum Club, where the Oil Patch Barons once ruled, and where now anybody with $65 a month in his jeans can join, the same day he—or she—applies.

“Reputation is character, minus what you’ve been caught doing,” emphasizes Seymour Schulich, a Montreal investment specialist, lured to Nevada by the quality of its poker games, who struck it rich and now works in Toronto, with a six-shooter in his desk.

An easy way to separate the New and the Old Establishments is to compare how their members spend money. Old Money drinks Glenfiddich, vacations in Palm Beach, wears threepiece suits with Oxfords and believes in Tom d’Aquino; New Money wears fancy belt buckles, cowboy boots or iguana sandals, drinks Evian (or, if pressed, Perrier) and believes in Charles Darwin. Old Money has hairy ears, wants to do its duty and plays polo. New Money has pierced ears (is on the waiting list for a cell phone implant), snowboards, bungee jumps and couldn’t care less about duty. Old Money follows the supermarket ads and knows when 170-g cans of Clover Leaf flaked white tuna are on special. New Money tips lavishly and


Titans live for fun as much as for money

regards waiters as buddies. Old Money tips with a dismissive wave of the hand and treats waiters as self-propelled furniture. Old Money prefers subdued shades of pastel; New Money loves electric colors and comprehends that polyester can be the stuff of haute couture. New Money women dress for themselves; they feel liberated from fashion. They know it’s impossible to look dowdy if you don’t feel it. Old Money prefers dry goods made out of anything that once lived: wool, leather, silk and fur. Old Money affects deliberate shabbiness, such as wearing swamp-cured duck-hunting hats and Windsor-knotted regimental ties while carrying grandfather’s walking stick. Howard Webster, one of the country’s richest and most secretive tycoons during the 1970s, used to travel on business wearing tennis shoes and carrying his files in a Loblaw’s supermarket shopping bag.

New Money savors the pleasures of ordering only the top vintage trophy wines, because it’s a handy way of instantly demonstrating you have both money and good taste. (“Excess cash flow seeking social validation,” is how Vancouver food and wine critic Jamie Maw, one of the best in the country, describes the process.) The trick is to ask for the brand, then gracefully—and knowledgeably—bargain about the actual vintages. Bay Street traders go mainly for Dom Pérignon 1976 or 1982. This is very different from Old Money, which placed lubrication ahead of sophistication, indulging in such pedestrian Scotches as Dewars or the Famous Grouse as starters, and no-name claret with dinner, concentrating on the after-dinner ports (Newman’s—no relation) and various liqueurs, preferably made by monks under vows of silence living on top of mountains.

Both New and Old Money prefer puffing Cohiba Robusto cigars. They were Castro’s favorites before he gave up smoking in 1985. But there’s a difference. New Money half believes the legend that these stogies are made by beautiful young Cuban women, who roll the raw tobacco leaves against their bare thighs. Old Money just wants a great smoke. New Money loves great sound systems; one Toronto broker had the floor of his pad mounted on springs so it wouldn’t distort the music. Old Money is just getting into CDs.

The Titans are far more worldly and sophisticated than the Old Establishment ever was. Unlike the former players, who felt secure in the backing of their peers, these new powerwielders operate strictly on their own—gunslingers always heading for the OK Corral. Winning isn’t important; it’s everything.

linked by the excitement of their interlock-


ing venture of the moment, the Titans build their power base on the shifting sands of mutual self-interest. These structures crumble the moment their usefulness is spent. Seldom is there a set game plan, let alone a book of rules; long-term planning is next Wednesday morning’s power breakfast.

These sons and daughters of the new meritocracy are lethal when crossed, terminally self-absorbed and impossible to satisfy. They believe implicitly that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood, and subscribe to Ashley Montagu’s dictum that your goal in life should be to die young as late as possible. They live for fun as much as for money.

Canada is but a dot on their virtual maps of the mind.

We follow the Titans’ deeds and misdeeds, and are swept up, however reluctantly, in the notion that money has become the cutting edge of Canadian society. Careers and cash are worshipped as things in themselves, rather than as means to a better life. We pretend it isn’t so, because it sounds so American, but it is an irrefutable fact that many, if not most, Canadians live in a money culture.

The money culture took hold of this country at some point in the spring of 1997. That was the moment when, for the first time, Canadians as a people received more income from dividends, commissions, capital gains, rents, interest and so on, than they earned through wages and salaries.

Cash is king. The only club worth joining is Money. Self-worth equals net worth.

That deadly equation implies that selfenrichment can replace emotion, faith, thought—and the other denominations of human experience. While money is no surrogate for humanity, kindness, love or ecstasy, the Titans who dominate the current business scene carry a deadly virus: the monetarization of feelings—the notion that only those sentiments fuelled by money are worth following. They seem genuinely to believe that if they had twice their money, they would be twice as happy, no matter how much they already have.

Canada’s Titans are the most successful and the most cynical of the country’s citizens, because they have reduced the idea of Canada to a flag of convenience—or, occasionally, inconvenience. As they become significant global players, the once-proud Maple Leaf is there to be used or discarded like a moth-eaten T-shirt. The economy they dominate has become part of a homogenized marketplace, and they have chosen profit over nation.

Undaunted by stock market swings or political crises, the Titans are in the process of establishing their networks around the globe, and they have the courage of their connections. Their fate will dominate Canada’s 21st century.

Love them or hate them, the Titans’ future runs with us all. □