By Jason Winders
Stephen Poloz thinks he would have made a good doctor.
“I think I am kind of a people person. My doctor is like that. I like to have a chat with people before we get down to what their problem might be,” Poloz, MA’79, PhD’82 (Economics), said with a laugh.
Although Poloz entered his undergrad years with eyes on a parent-approved medical career, a chance hole in the semester’s schedule led him to his first exposure to economics, a discipline he would follow through his graduate degree work at Western. And now, that random encounter – a “tail event” in economics’ parlance – has paid off with the country’s top job in the profession.
When Mark Carney headed to England in June 2013 to lead its national bank, the door opened for Poloz, former Export Development Canada president and CEO, to step in as the new Governor of the Bank of Canada. His pick surprised analysts, many of whom expected Senior Deputy Governor Tiff Macklem, Ph.D.’89 (Economics), to nab the top job.
Initially headed toward an academic career, Poloz has worked in both the public and private sectors, including 14 years with the Bank of Canada during the 1980s and early 1990s. Beyond his solid academic credentials, he is billed as a communicator and listener, an inquisitive mind unafraid to challenge. Poloz is the type of man who jots down notes on his morning newspaper, questions he would like answered. He pushes his people for clarity.
“You can’t just say, ‘Trust us, we believe this’ to the public,” Poloz said. “I like to offer up the ‘kitchen table version’ of how the dots connect together, so regular folks, business people especially, can monitor things for themselves. If they cannot hear what the bank is saying, and understand how it impacts their business plan, then we have failed.
“If we succeed, then what we’re saying is not just a number, it’s a story.”
Poloz is a man with feet equally – and proudly – grounded in both economic theory and business reality. It’s a diverse skillset he discovered by continuing his education at Western.
“At Queen’s and Western, I was presented with two, completely different ways of thinking about things with enough overlap that you wouldn’t get lost. But Western gave me a rounded outset. I always felt like I got all the bases covered I was never firmly one (economic) school or another, but inclined to think in a more general context,” said Poloz, who still vividly remembers his first approach of campus through Western’s Gates.
At the Bank of Canada, “a leading-edge research institution,” Poloz has found a happy balance between research and practice. It was a trait he was drawn to when he first worked at the bank, and one he brought with him during his master’s/PhD work.
“I went to Western with the mind that I very much wanted to go back to the bank some day. So, it always gave me a more practical lens through which I looked at all the stuff passing by me in economics at Western,” he said. “Say someone would be presenting a model in academic fashion. I would be thinking, ‘How would I use that?’ while a purist, someone who has adopted the religion of economics, would be looking at those models as part of the Gospel, part of the rigor of being an academic economist.
“That lens helped me pick and choose a bit more, filter out things I thought were a little more esoteric. I always had a practical bent.”
Poloz is also leading a ‘purple wave’ of Western alumni within the Bank of Canada.
With their appointments to the Bank of Canada Governing Council in May 2014, Western alumnae Carolyn Wilkins, MA’88 (Economics), and Lynn Patterson, HBA’83, placed Western economists at four of the top six positions at the bank, including governor, senior deputy governor and two of four deputy governor posts. Timothy Lane, PhD’83 (Economics), joined the bank in 2008; he started his term as one of four deputy governors in February 2009.
Stephen S. Poloz, Governor of the Bank of Canada, MA’79, PhD’82 (Economics), will deliver the inaugural President’s Lecture Series at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24 in the BMO Auditorium, Ivey Business School. The sold-out event will be live-streamed at president.uwo.ca/stephen_poloz.