Michael Wilson: "The more transparent companies can be, the more effective the interaction with stakeholders and shareholders."

"The more transparent companies can be, the more effective the interaction with stakeholders and shareholders."

I got a job in Ottawa in 1964 with the [federal] department of finance. During my first week, the assistant deputy minister called and said: “We have a $400-million bond issue coming up. What should we do?” I choked, then gave him my advice, but I thought to myself: “The country is not in good hands if they're asking a 25-year-old for advice on refinancing $400 million.”

Business is, at its heart, about being profitable. There should be no shame whatsoever. In an open market in a global economy, a company can't make too much money, because the competition won't allow it to make too much money.

I went into politics in 1979. My job with Dominion Securities at that stage had been to provide international investors with a good understanding of the strengths of Canada. I had problems answering some of the questions investors were asking–about the fact that we were going into bigger and bigger deficits. I started to reflect on this, and I didn't like what I saw.

When I became finance minister the deficit was 8.6% of GDP. We got that figure down to 3.1%. By some measures, we cut spending more aggressively than those two famous deficit fighters, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

There was a tax, the Manufacturers' Sales Tax, that was a drag on a key area of the economy. We changed it for a tax, the Goods and Services Tax, that is far better for the health of the economy. The GST reduces the tax on the productive side of the economy, and shifts it to the consumption side, so you get a good balance between it and the income tax.

I would have preferred to have the provinces integrate their sales taxes with the GST. And I would have preferred to have it hidden so there wouldn't be sticker shock–what people see is what people get. Since a number of provinces had Liberal governments at the time, I didn't have confidence they would have allowed us to go through with a totally integrated tax.

With the results of the Free Trade Agreement, what we had said at the time we implemented it has been borne out. What the Opposition said–that it would be terribly damaging to the economy–turned out to be all hot political rhetoric. We created economic activity through an increase in exports that we never would have achieved without free access to the U.S. market.

My job at UBS Canada is to work with the CEOs of our four divisions and to develop senior client relationships. We have a very strong international trading business, and in the institutional stock business we are the No. 1 trader of Canadian stocks. We're actively building our presence in corporate finance. I think we are the best global bank represented in Canada today.

When the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance was under discussion, I thought this is something that UBS should support and that I would like to be involved with. Bringing together the three legs of corporate governance–directors, management and investors–provides the right checks and balances. Corporate governance can set the ground rules, set the culture.

I became active in mental health advocacy after I left Parliament because I felt it was an important area with few volunteers. I decided that's where I could have some impact. It was about a year and a half after I became really involved in this area that our son became ill [with depression]. It obviously increased my commitment. But it was an ironic coincidence.

There are people who suffer from mental illness who don't want to talk about it, who are worried about opening up to employers about it. There are things–management practices–more likely to encourage or increase toxic stress in the workplace. These elements of stress can be avoided, and that's what we're trying to identify and help managers deal with.

I have a passion for golf. Every time you stand and address the ball, you say to yourself, “This is going to be the shot I've always dreamed about.” Sometimes you get it, more times you don't, but there's a challenge in making that perfect shot.

Michael H. Wilson
Born Nov. 4, 1937, in Toronto
Businessman; corporate governance champion

1961: Joins Harris and Partners. In 1964, takes job with federal finance department. Returns to Toronto investment community in 1966.

1979: Leaves position as executive VP of Dominion Securities when elected Conservative MP. In 1984, named finance minister.

1991: Introduces controversial GST; becomes trade and industry minister and negotiates NAFTA with U.S. and Mexico in 1991-92.

1995: After quitting politics in 1993, joins RBC Dominion Securities. In 2000, joins business economic roundtable on mental health.

2003: Joins Canadian Coalition for Good Governance; in 2004, following UBS's 2001 purchase of RBC, named chairman of UBS Canada.