Royal Bank of Canada chairman John Cleghorn has been called the Clark Kent of Canadian banking—although in the months after the Royal and Bank of Montreal announced their merger plans, the Canadian banking community was counting on Cleghorn to turn into Superman. Cleghorn, pegged to become chairman and CEO of the giant Royal-Bank of Montreal combination, has been the person bankers expected to sell their dream to Finance Minister Paul Martin and the Canadian public. Towards that end, he has been travelling across the country and back since February, talking to employees, major clients and elected officials about how the proposed merger is, above all else, good business.
He was, and is, without a doubt the best person to lead the cause. Cleghorn is as straight a shooter as bankers come. Born in Montreal and raised there and in Waterloo, Ont., he played football for McGill University and graduated with a commerce degree before working as an auditor, sugar futures trader and, finally, career banker. He married his university girlfriend, joined the Royal Bank in 1974 and established a reputation as a nononsense, no-frills manager. Cleghorn proved it in 1994: when he became CEO, he stripped away extravagances that had become synonymous with Royal Bank. He closed the executive dining room, sold the corporate jet
SEEKING SUPPORT: The Royal’s Cleghorn is an earnest, articulate champion of bigger banks
and moved his own offices out of the traditional oak-panelled suite and into a modest space many stories below. The same careful frugality, moreover, is evident in Cleghorn's personal life. He drives a Chrysler to work in Toronto and a Ford Explorer on weekends in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. He required his three children to repay, with interest, the money he lent them for university.
The problem with carrying the can, as Cleghorn is now discovering, is that the failure, to date, of the merger campaign to win over bank customers, backbenchers and the finance minister is being laid at his door— and, even more so, at the door of his highprofile would-be merger partner, the Bank of Montreal’s Matthew Barrett. Directors of both banks are said to be unhappy over how the whole matter has been handled. Clearly, it is time for Superman.
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