FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Todd Hirsch
May 6, 2014
Why economics? “Math had always appealed to me, and I was good at it. When I got to university I found math not so appealing – but economics seemed to have a purpose, in terms of trying to answer fundamental questions.”
Born in Edmonton, lived there and other nearby communities (dad was a manager with Safeway, mom was homemaker, worked at Safeway), high school at Harry Ainley in Edmonton, BA (Hons) in Economics at University of Alberta, MA in Economics at University of Calgary (where he’s done some teaching too). His early work bridged the family food industry field with economic reality – Todd made the best slurpies on Argyll Road for his first employer 7-11.
He’s come a long way from there, from then.
Early career at Canada West Foundation, rose quickly, then to his current job at ATB Financial …
He’s no longer that long-haired fresh from school fountain of theory, he’s got some real history and credibility under his belt …
I remembered meeting Todd about a dozen years ago – he worked then as a researcher and economic spokesman for the Canada West Foundation; we met as members of the Economic Affairs Committee at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. He was new, just coming on when I was leaving. I’ve followed his career somewhat since then. We met up recently for coffee and discussion of the weather (something we can predict) and the economy (not so much).
He’s no wunderkind, not from Toronto – but he’s fast become a go-to authority on Alberta for people looking in and reliable interpreter of what is happening around the country for those of us looking outward.
His employer yielded to ‘working in Calgary’ rather than from ATB’s Edmonton head offices. He has become a highly respected tea-leaf reader of economic trends – for Albertans, Alberta business and for outsiders looking in in Alberta – so toils ATB Financial’s Chief Economist, Todd Hirsch.
His role, admittedly, is different in scope from people with similar titles at Canada’s big bank head offices in Toronto. He, running a shop of two, offers the 35,000 ft. view using data and viewpoint gathered and assembled as economists do. For industry and business specific data, he drills down to colleagues in specific disciplines.
His observations on governments, budgets? “Budgets are 100% political documents, not economic documents. Economics is the study and understanding of unlimited wants reconciled with limited resources.”
So, on the subject of things political, I asked him for some comments on Alison Redford: “She made lots of mistakes”; on Jim Prentice: “Never met him. He’s well respected. He’s had a scandal free career and I expect it (the PC leadership) would be his for the taking”.
What’s next for Todd Hirsch? “Far more presentations – speaking opportunities. ATB have been so accommodating. They’ve allowed me a lot of freedom. The Big 5 banks use an old model of what an economist is. I’m not happy with the title. I prefer thought leader, idea generator or provocateur – as things are in the TEDx movement, bringing ideas and thinkers together”.
I asked Todd how he sees the economy of Calgary and financial services business … his area of specialty, over the next quarter?
... fantastic. I can’t think of any place that is better off than Alberta right now
And over the next 5 years?
… situations can change quite dramatically in 5 years … and, yes, our life could get better! Concerns – lack of economic diversity, heavy reliance on hydrocarbons. I’m hopeful for development of other sources of energy, particularly geo-thermal
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I like to know them, and have them know me. Excellent quality - price is less important than service. Workmanship, craftsmanship.
What distinguishes you that causes people/employers to choose Todd Hirsch, why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I speak in language people can understand. I don’t inundate people with data, graphs and PowerPoint slides –they want interpretation.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
... not much. I used to worry about what happens when we run out of oil. Now I wonder what will happen when the world is no longer an oil economy...
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… 7 yrs ago, Bob Ascha, then a Sr. VP of Government Relations – a strong influence in my career
Work life balance?
… I have it. Socializing, family, living in Connaught, time to walk my Boston Terrier, writing, speaking, interesting career. I’m a foodie – really enjoy the Calgary restaurant scene – trying lots of great restaurants. Il Sogno is my favourite. I’m a wine aficionado.
What do you read?
… I alternate between fiction and non-fiction. Currently reading “The News, a User’s Manual” by Alain de Botton
… mostly I walk. We have a Lexus IS350, mostly driven by my partner for work.
FACILITYCalgarynewsletters may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, re-disseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without prior written permission. All rights reserved. PLANDflex Corporation - http://plandflex.com