In the column My Career With Touche Ross, I described how I stumbled into what is now known as “executive coaching.” Even when I was with John Labatt Ltd., and then with Balmur Ltd., a number of my senior executive friends would still call for advice or to ask me to have a word with an up-and-coming young executive in their employ. So when my relationship with Balmur ended in August 1994 it seemed perfectly natural for me to go into executive coaching full time.
I notified my old contacts and a few friends in the executive search business that I was setting up business as a full-time executive coach and assured them I’d appreciate any business they could send my way. I did the same with my former partners at Coopers & Lybrand and Deloitte & Touche. Although I received some offers to attach myself to their operations, I stuck with my decision to go it on my own.
After exploring four possible “executive suite” set-ups (a private office with shared office services), because of its location, I settled on what was by far the most expensive: Scotia Plaza, Scotiabank’s palatial headquarters at the corner of King and Bay. I signed a two-year lease and moved in. Once again I was back in what I’ve always considered my natural home: the heart of the Toronto financial district.
Renting the expensive space (I had bitten the bullet and took a 49th floor corner office with an unbelievable view) turned out to be the right move because senior executives and successful entrepreneurs who came to me for coaching felt completely comfortable in those surroundings. The facility also offered various-sized meeting rooms and state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment, which was very important because the bulk of my coaching activity consisted of public speaking and communication skills training.As I also did some media training I made a deal with a radio and TV production company for the use of their facilities.
Speaking of media, upon joining Labatt in 1991 I gave up my writing, regular radio gig with CFRB, and regular TV appearances. As there wasn’t an audience in 1994 for broadcasts or columns on executive coaching, I was no longer able to get free promotion for my services. Although I sometimes appeared on radio and TV to talk about financial affairs, because no coaching clients resulted therefrom I decided to engage a marketing firm to conduct a direct mail campaign. They mailed out over 8,000 brochures to executives in the 416 and 905 area codes, which resulted in exactly two responses; and only one became a client.
However, as described in the column Balmur Ltd., from February 1995 until November 1995 I spent nearly all my time helping Anne Murray keep things together during the late stages of Leonard Rambeau’s illness and after his death, so I was busy and my income didn’t suffer. By the time Anne Murray and I finally parted company in November, word of mouth had sufficiently built up my executive coaching practice that I didn’t need any further promotion – especially expensive, useless direct mail campaigns.
In a couple of other columns, especially TransCanadaPipeLines – Round 2, I referred to spending July and August of 1965 with the accounting firm Ernst & Young (then Clarkson Gordon), and how I left to join TransCanada when E & Y wouldn’t transfer me to their tax department. However, for four years I continued to play goal for their hockey team in the Toronto Chartered Accountants League (even after I became a partner in their rival firm, Coopers & Lybrand, see the column I Find My True Niche). I also served on various Institute of Chartered Accountants committees with many E & Y partners and had met a number of their staff when I took the CICA Tax Course in the late 1960s. As a result, I developed close friendships with a number of E & Y people who, by the mid-nineties, were senior partners at the firm. So I wasn’t surprised when, in August of 1996, I received a call from their Chairman, Ron Gage, whom I knew especially well, suggesting that we meet for a coffee and a chat. What did surprise me, though, was what he wanted to chat about.
After we exchanged the usual pleasantries Ron asked, “How would you like to become a senior tax partner with Ernst & Young?” Only partly joking, I replied, “It’s about a hundred and eight on my to-do list. It’s been years since I practiced tax.”
Ron explained that I wouldn’t be expected to do any tax work. The firm was setting up a wealth management division within the Toronto tax department and needed an experienced personal financial planning person to help the partner who was heading it up. He went on to say that he thought I’d need to spend no more than two years in the role. So, more than thirty years after I asked to be transferred into Ernst & Young’s tax department as a very junior accountant, I was joining it as a very senior partner.
After one year I went in to Ron’s office and told him I didn’t think there was anything else that I could contribute to the wealth management practice and that I was resigning as a partner. Ron asked me what I was going to do and I told him I was going back to executive coaching. He said there were plenty of partners, principals and senior managers at Ernst & Young who needed coaching, so why not stay and do it there. Seeing no reason not to, that’s exactly what I did until I retired in the fall of 2003.
I thought it fitting that I ended my Toronto chartered accountant activity with the same firm with which I began it over thirty-eight years before.
And I think it’s even more fitting that our older son, Matthew, is now a tax partner with Ernst & Young in Toronto.