FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Jack Mintz
July 15, 2014
His academic credentials, teaching in so many places – U of T and Queens for long stints, advising finance ministers and prime ministers, advising the World Bank, advising the International Monetary Fund – not your average resume at all. So, who is Jack Mintz and why is he so busy?
It took six months and several re-schedulings for his staff to find time for this interview – and I must say, as I sat in the waiting room of the University of Calgary Downtown Campus at the School of Public Policy last Friday afternoon, awaiting his return I was expecting our planned hour to be cut short. Lucky me, he gave me two hours of his time – not to teach me public policy or economics, but to demonstrate kindness, humility and openness unlike anything I might have anticipated.
Perhaps that is to be expected from a public figure accustomed to charming donors out of money and persuading world leaders to run their economies differently. Jack Mintz has done lots of both, continues to run flat-out and is in such high demand I was honoured by two things. First, that he reads this newsletter. The second, when I realized he was on the mailing list, that my request for an interview was granted.
He loves history and he revealed a great deal of his to me so I can share it with you …
He curled. In high school. Otherwise, not much into athletics in his youth. He’s had a lot of academics in his life.
And lots of debate on public policy and politics which began at the dinner table growing up – his mom was a Liberal, his dad a Conservative – so the issues of the day were often hot topics of discussion.
He describes a new version of Freedom 55 – as “when your kids turn 55”.
He says friends would say he has a good sense of humour, that he is loyal to long term relationships (he says that's his mother’s influence).
I kept asking about him.
He kept telling me about the School of Public Policy.
His job, of course, is to promote the school he has led from its first day. He explained he wanted it to be more than a teaching school, more than research – but to be a self-sustaining and self-funding operation. His way, create a think-tank. Run events. Publish papers. Lots of them. His summary: “We needed a fast start – we had one chance to do that. To get young people turned on to going into government service. To develop a brand. To be a major market institution with a western voice.”
Ninety faculty and staff. Forty students each year do a full calendar year program (14 courses) to earn a Masters in Public Policy. No grants from the Government of Alberta. Tuition is $20K. Half the students win scholarships. He’s raised $48 million in five years. GPA of 3.7 or higher to get in this year …
How does one describe an average looking guy, an average middle-class background, born in Edmonton, never elected to any office, neither jock or limelight seeker who has played such a pivotal role in Canada’s economy, prosperity and public-policy issues for so long – through governments of Turner, Martin, Mulroney and Harper? He describes Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Prime Minister Harper as having made smart moves to avoid catastrophe during the financial crisis of 2008/9 while diplomatically avoiding discussion of just what advice he gave them. Clearly, it was plenty.
Born in Edmonton (mom was a social worker, dad a dentist, older brother became a lawyer), he attended Ross Shepard High School, earned his BA in Economics (Hons) and the Alexander McGibbon Award (top of his class) at University of Alberta, got his MA in Economics from Queen’s, and did his Ph.D at the University of Essex. Married 39 years to Eleanor. Two children, five grandchildren (a sixth arriving soon).
Why have you never run for office? “I’ve been asked, by several parties – but I’d have to espouse a party line I might not always agree on.”
His objectives, at 30, were to start an academic journal, to run a tax reform commission and to be a Clifford Clark Visiting Economist for Finance Canada. He did those before he was 50.
What’s next? … “I will never retire. You don’t throw what you have away … I’ll keep writing. I have a couple of book ideas.”
Among his closing comments - “I’ve had a good life.” On the PC Leadership? “Prentice.” On the Alberta government, on an election in two years? “In politics, two years is a long time. Campaigns matter.”
I asked Jack how he sees his business in Alberta, business in Calgary, through his economist’s lens, looking forward over the next quarter?
… we have a high quality work force in Calgary. The Alberta economy is currently doing well. We are going to see more growth. In Alberta we have 27% of private investment in Canada while only having 14% of the country’s economy. I have concerns about Ontario right now.
And over the next five years?
… I see more major multi-nationals continue coming here. KKR, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan for instance – they are here for a reason! Oil and gas is strong. Agriculture is coming back. We are generating technology spin-offs in other industries.
I asked, how would you describe your management style?
… I’m not a micro-manager. The key to leading is to have good people around you, setting the tone, having respect for people. Honesty. Trust. Let them do their job. I’m here to think strategically.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… quality. Price can matter. Trust is very important – which is why western countries run so well.
What distinguishes you that causes people/employers to choose Jack Mintz to do business with, why have they hired you, over others?
… they are seeking my advice. Built a reputation, experience. It’s important to be honest. Your views, in giving advice, must remain independent.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… about how long your health is going to hold up. Things I’d like to get done. I worry about the 20th century – lots of damage done, and I worry that we not see those things repeated as we see with ISIS in Iraq right now – killing people for no reason. I worry about two things I’ve worried about in Canada for a long time – our productivity and our aging population.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad suggesting I switch from history to economics in my first year of university. When Tom Kierans called me in 1998 asking me to succeed him as head of the C.D. Howe Institute. When Harvey Weingarten and Jim Palmer came calling, asking me to start the School of Public Policy.
What do you do for fun? What defines work-life balance for you?
… I have it. I’ve always protected Friday evenings and Saturdays as family time. I work out. I used to run, play squash. I slipped a disc at 25 … now have sciatica. My wife and I like plays, opera, travel (we try to do a new country each year – but also want to return to Italy), travel to see grandchildren (6th one due in August). We walk a lot. Play scrabble.
What do you read?
… I love history. The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. Colleen Woodward’s books on the Americas, The Third Reich Trilogy by Richard Evans.
… 2006 Infiniti M35 with only 50,000 km on it. We walk a lot. I walk to work.
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