Clark: Prepare to combat tomorrow’s challenges today

A failure of political leadership, combined with an inability to see beyond today, has created an uncertain future for today’s graduates, warned successful businessman Edmund Clark.

Clark spoke to graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, the Don Wright Faculty of Music and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the Tuesday, June 18, morning session of Western’s 301st Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.), upon Clark in recognition of his vision, integrity and strong leadership in business and banking.

Clark joined graduates in celebrating the culmination of the “investment” they had made in themselves. “You made that decision (to attend university) because you had confidence in yourself, and knew it would pay dividends in the future,” he said.

But he warned the world they walk into tomorrow is not one similarly accustomed to planning for the future.

“People invest, as you have done, because they believe in the outcome of the investment, and they are happy with how the benefits are distributed,” Clark said. “The same is true at the societal level. People are willing to sacrifice their immediate particular needs to obtain a better future for the general interest.”

But today’s leaders have failed the future as issues like climate change and economic inequity have gone unaddressed. “We have a failure of leadership and we take soft options knowing in the future we will face ever-harder options,” Clark said.

After completing his BA at the University of Toronto in 1969 and a master’s and doctorate in Economics from Harvard by 1974, Clark took many successive senior positions within Canada’s federal government. In 1985, he joined Merrill Lynch, and was appointed chair and CEO of Morgan Financial Corporation three years later, a position he held until 1991 when he moved to Canada Trust Financial Services Inc. as president/CEO.

After TD acquired Canada Trust Financial Services in 2000, Clark took the role of chair/CEO of TD Canada Trust. He was responsible for the successful integration of the TD and Canada Trust banking operations and served as the new president and chief operating officer, starting in July 2000.

Two years later, Clark was named group president/CEO of TD Bank Group. He still serves as chair of the board of TD Bank N.A. and its subsidiary banks, and as vice-chair of the board of TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation. He will retire on Nov. 1, 2014, but will remain a director until TD’s 2015 Annual Meeting.

Giving of his time and efforts outside the banking sector, Clark is a member of the Chair’s Advisory Council for Habitat for Humanity Toronto, and provides support to WoodGreen Community Services, which delivers programs that build sustainable communities in the Toronto area.

Clark has been honoured with many awards for his vision, integrity and leadership. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2010 and named Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year. A year later, he was named Ivey Business Leader of the Year by Western’s Ivey School of Business. In 2012 and 2013, he was named to Barron’s prestigious annual list of the world’s 30 best CEOs.

Having also received Egale’s Leadership Award in honor of his leadership in supporting LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) communities, Clark was acknowledged by the GTA Association of Fundraising Professionals with the 2011 Outstanding Philanthropist award.

Clark stressed graduates should not avoid the difficult decisions facing their generation.

“My plea to you would be, as you chart your own life, pick what role you can play in the civic discussion. This is not a plea that you should enter politics, rather that you understand that public policy matters,” Clark said. “The bearers of the future increases in the welfare of Western societies depend heavily on public policy, on improving the effectiveness of public institutions and on finding a better means of delivering public goods.

“The public sector matters more today than ever before, while trust in the public sector is lower than ever before.”

In her citation, Ivey Dean Carol Stephenson credited Clark for positioning TD as “the better bank” because he exemplifies the high standards that make him “the better leader.”

“In the midst of a global economic downturn, Mr. Clark’s preference for prudence and long-term gains paid off and TD Bank Financial remains one of Canada’s largest banks. Under his leadership, TD has become a leader in both consumer banking and community involvement,” she said.

“The scope and magnitude of Mr. Clark’s personal service to Canadian society is also extensive. Showing exemplary commitment to both business advancement and community service, he serves on a number of corporate and community boards. He is a member of the Chair’s Advisory Council for Habitat for Humanity; served as the 2010 chair for United Way Toronto; and was co-chair of the Heart and Circulation Campaign for the University Health Network (UHN) in 2004. He has also donated $3 million to Homeward Bound, an initiative that has helped hundreds of low-income Canadian women who have been in the shelter system become completely self-supporting. Without his contribution, this project would not exist.”

Clark concluded with lighter advice. “Don’t take yourself too seriously. The world is filled with people caught up in ‘The Me.’ It is a huge burden for them to carry, but frankly, it is even worse for those of us who have to put up with them,” he said, drawing a shared laugh from the audience.

Also during the ceremony, Visual Arts professor Kathryn Brush received the Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching while the Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Women’s Studies professor Susan Knabe. The status of professor emerita was conferred upon Music professor Fiona Wilkinson.