Live & Learn: Réal Raymond

Ending 37 years at National Bank.

Banking was not a career I was looking at. It was an accident. I was in Quebec City, and I needed to find a job to pay for my university. I thought at the time that these guys at the bank are not working very hard. I was fooled.

The definition we used to use was that we were the sixth-largest bank in Canada. But what we really are is the largest bank in Quebec. Being the sixth-largest bank in the country is not a strength. Being the strongest and biggest banking organization in one large economic region like Quebec means something.

I keep telling people, the only competitive advantage that has some permanency around it is client satisfaction. That’s it. Technology you can buy or borrow. I don’t know any products that I can put on the marketplace that cannot be copied by Royal Bank tomorrow. The clientele has to like dealing with us.

We take it for granted here that the banks are safe. You don’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I’m going to lose my money. We should work to make sure the quality remains solid. The dynamics of this sector have to be maintained.

Globally, we’ve done a pretty good job when you compare us to many other countries. I just came back from Argentina. When you see what happened with the banking system there, which was basically scrapped in 2001, the level of confidence is not there anymore. That has a huge negative impact for an economy.

It’s tough for the average consumer in Canada [to understand bank mergers]. Every quarter they see the banks coming out with huge profits. But the reality is that globalization is taking place. We see transactions on a daily basis where organizations are getting bigger and bigger. That will make it more difficult for Canadian banks to follow their own commercial plans.

They say, “Isn’t Alberta lucky because they have all this oil?” We’re even luckier, because we have renewable energy, hydro.

There is a shift taking place. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy is the big hope. In Quebec, the ADQ is taking a bigger place. It comes from a realization that you cannot put a fence around the country and say these are going to be the rules. You have to adjust to that environment and be more competitive.

People thought they could be protected by social legislation; it’s not true. They lose their jobs anyway.

All in all, when you travel around the world and come back to this country, you realize how lucky we are that we have so many things going in our direction. Being a net exporter of resources; having the capacity that we have in minerals, oil and gas, hydro electricity, educated people. There is no reason we should not be at par or better than the Americans.

We have to tackle infrastructure. This is key to being competitive. It’s also a way to rethink the job losses that we will incur in the manufacturing sector. There is so much money looking for good investments at a decent return.

I’m still young, so I have no intention to sit in the rocking chair for the rest of my life. I’ve got to be busy. I’ve retired from the bank, but I haven’t retired from life. I’ll probably invest in a few companies, take a few boards and be involved in the community somehow, somewhere. I’ll do many things and with much less intensity than running a public company.

You get this feeling sometimes in the corner office that you’re the only one thinking about the future of your organization. Investors don’t care about the future. They just want to make money now, and so you feel alone in trying to balance between short-term needs and a long-term view for the organization. And that’s sad.

We doubled the market cap during my tenure. And doubled the dividends. It’s been fun. I can’t complain.

Réal Raymond
Born March 4, 1950, in St-Donat, Que.
Retiring CEO, National Bank of Canada

Joins National Bank as a teller. Seven years later, becomes one of the bank's youngest branch managers, at age 27.

Begins a rapid ascent up the bank's career ladder after being promoted to the bank's corporate banking division.

Takes on a series of jobs, including manager of corporate banking, and president of personal and commercial banking.

Becomes president and chief operating officer. Closes in on the top job and takes the title of CEO in March 2002.

Chairs the major development campaign at UQAM. Receives CEO of the Year honour by Montreal paper La Presse, in 2005.