If the University of Calgary was seeking a well-connected dean who could raise the profile of the Haskayne School of Business with Calgary’s corporate crowd, it probably couldn’t have found a more suitable candidate than Michael Grandin.
Grandin, who was appointed to a five-year term as dean of the Haskayne School in April, has sat in top-level executive suites that span from one end of Calgary’s skyline to the other and is currently chief executive officer of Fording Canadian Coal Trust, which boasts a market cap approaching $3 billion from its operations in Alberta and British Columbia.
The Windsor-born, Calgary-raised Grandin has held top-level management positions at 10 companies spanning six industries, including chief financial officer of Canadian Pacific and president of PanCanadian Petroleum before it merged with Alberta Energy Co. to form EnCana.
Furthermore, Grandin’s passion for education is underscored by the fact that he returned to school at 32 to take his MBA at Harvard University following a 10-year stint as a civil engineer.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|Haskayne School of Business Dean Michael Grandin’s experience is seen as a vital asset to the University of Calgary.|
1.Why did you wait until you were 32 to take your MBA at Harvard University, 10 years after graduating from the University of Alberta with a civil engineering degree?
“Well, it was largely financial. It’s pretty expensive to go there and I certainly wouldn’t have had the financial resources to attend Harvard before that. I also was interested in practising engineering for a while and experiencing that while saving money to go back to school. Harvard was a great experience.”
2. You’ve worked in a broad range of business sectors. Was that by design?
“No. There wasn’t any grand plan.
I guess I was always looking for interesting and challenging work. I was looking to move ahead as I gained experience. In that sense, I guess there was some sort of plan there but it was also somewhat opportunity driven. I had quite a good job coming out of business school with Arthur D. Little (a management consulting firm) in Boston, but that entailed a huge amount of time away from home and we had a young family then. The oil business was booming, so there was a good opportunity to come back to Calgary (in 1979). From there on, I took opportunities as they presented themselves.”
3. What style of management has contributed to your success as a business leader?
“It’s probably just an open style of management. I’m happy to listen to people and their ideas and take them into consideration. I’ve found that hearing what people had to say, what suggestions they had and what experiences they’d encountered would either help confirm a decision that I was making, cause me to question it or perhaps even change it at times. I think that made people feel like they were at least somewhat involved and informed as to what the big picture was, which always makes work more interesting. It certainly did make work more interesting for me when I was in junior positions.”
4. Where do you find the time to be a CEO, a dean and sit on the boards of four companies besides Fording as well as the Investment Dealers Association?
“Well, I had taken on the board positions before the university position came along, so I’m in the process of dropping a couple of public company boards. I’m going to go off the Enerflex Systems board and the Pengrowth (Energy Trust) board. I’m going to remain on the Fording board, of course, as well as the EnCana and Ipsco boards. Fording, EnCana and Ipsco are three significant companies in three different industries and it’s a good profile for the university for me to be on boards like that. It also helps me maintain a stronger connection to the business community, which is important for the role the university wanted me to play here. And if you look at a number of senior CEOs you’ll find they’re often on two or three outside boards as well as running their companies. So in terms of an overall time commitment, I don’t see it as being all that much greater than what some other CEOs are doing. The university job is certainly a full-time job.”
5. Why have you chosen to reduce your director’s role?
“In the early stages at the university, there are a number of things I need to learn and get familiar with. I was concerned that if I stayed on all five of them (boards), I was going to find myself pulled in too many directions because I also have a personal life that I wasn’t willing to completely abandon.”
6. As CEO of Fording, what would you be uncomfortable with in terms of the number of boards one of your company’s directors was sitting on?
“Well, I guess that’s a hard question for me to really answer. I’d probably be better off not to put a number on it. I think it’s really just a function of sort of the CEO and what his management style is, and actually what the board wants out of the CEO. Sometimes, boards want CEOs to be on three or four boards because they feel that having access to how companies are solving similar problems is very useful to them and to their CEO. Others prefer that their CEO devote almost his undivided time to the company, in which case they’re going to probably limit it to one or two outside boards. Certainly, with the increase in regulatory constraints on boards with more and longer meetings and more time involved between them with ad hoc meetings, I think it’s getting increasingly difficult to stay on a large number of boards, even if you’re retired. But I’m really hesitant to put a number out.”
7. Do you foresee a lot of experienced directors enrolling in the Haskayne School’s new director’s education program?
“At the first offering of that program at the University of Toronto in June, I was quite impressed with the class. We had very experienced individuals and directors in that class, which signalled to me that there is an interest on the part of senior and experienced directors in trying to stay up to date on the current thinking on certain issues. If that’s the case and those kinds of people continue to participate, I think it could be a very valuable program because, much like an MBA program, often you learn more from your fellow students than you do from the instructor – and that would certainly be true in this director’s program.”
8. How would you rank the quality of corporate governance in Canada compared to the U.S.?
“Canada, I think, was well ahead of the U.S. in terms of separating the roles of chairman and CEO. Certainly, when it came to shareholders’ rights plans in Canada, the primary purpose was to make sure that boards and companies had ample time to respond to an unsolicited takeover bid and make sure the shareholders got the best deal – as opposed to what you see in other countries where shareholders’ rights plans actually are capable of allowing management to actually prevent a deal. There are a couple of examples where I think the Canadian governance model, in general terms, has probably been better for shareholders than in the U.S.”
9. What do you think about when you see high-profile former CEOs such as Ken Lay (Enron) in handcuffs?
“You certainly hate to see anything come to that. You look at Ken Lay and you think, ‘Oh boy, that’s a pretty sad outcome.’ And you think about the employees and investors who lost their life savings or a large chunk of it. That’s a terribly tragic outcome for an awful lot of people. If there was a way that one could ensure that that wouldn’t happen again, that would be wonderful. On the other hand, these companies are run by people and most are good and some aren’t so good. And I think you could do greater harm by tying people’s hands so tightly in a regulatory way that they become very risk averse and not be willing to take the kinds of risks and chances that you need to take to be successful in business and developing new businesses. While it’s important that we do what we can to minimize these kinds of occurrences, we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t do more harm than good. Also, we don’t want to get boards too involved in the management of the business. We want to make sure we keep boards governing, which is what they’re supposed to be doing, and not managing.”
10. Are you in favour of a single national securities regulatory body for Canada?
“Well, you know I’ve got to be careful because I’m on the IDA board and they have their own views on the whole matter. I think the IDA is basically saying that you can get the same result in a number of different ways. You could have a single national regulator or you can have multiple regulators with what they call a passport system – which means if you qualify your securities in Alberta then they’d automatically qualify with all the other jurisdictions in Canada.
“And I think they (IDA) are right. I think that if one could get to a single regulator, you have to think there would be an awful lot of savings on the administrative side. I think that would be the best outcome. (But) there are some difficulties with that. Maybe, the IDA’s approach as a first step is a good one and perhaps over time you can get there. The problem is that if you get to one (regulator), do you adequately reflect regional interests? We have a very important junior mining industry based in British Columbia. Do they lose out if you have a single regulator based in Ontario, for example, which would be the likely thing? We have a very strong junior and intermediate oil and gas industry in Canada that relies on public markets. Do they lose out if you have a single regulator based in some other province of the country? Those are the concerns.”
11. What’s your vision for the Haskayne School during your five-year term?
“It’s too early for me to really give you that in clear terms because I want to take the first three or four months to meet the faculty, get their views on some of the issues and opportunities and then spend some time with the downtown community to get some of their input. So I can’t lay out a vision for you at this stage. What I can say is we have a university that has accomplished so much in a short period of time; it has made tremendous progress in terms of its reputation and the quality of the faculty it has attracted; it’s based in Calgary, which has the second-largest number of head offices in the country and a very highly educated population per capita in terms of professional and technical degrees per capita and university degrees per capita; and you’ve got a can-do attitude in Calgary that is probably second to none in the country and a very business-friendly climate in the whole province of Alberta. So if there was ever a set of raw ingredients to build a really excellent business school, they’ve got to exist in Calgary.”
12. Can you talk about your major priorities for the Haskayne School?
“What we want to be able to do is link the business school in particular, and hopefully the university, as closely as we can to the business community to make sure we take advantage of the location and the business experience that exists in the city and use that to build a truly great business school and university. I think a lot of people in Calgary recognize that for this city to go to the next stage in its growth, it needs to have a real world-class university and the relationship is reciprocal. A lot of what is done and produced at the university is very useful to the business community, and a lot of the experience in the business community is very useful to the business educational experience at the university.”
13. What can you do to silence critics of the Haskayne School and enhance its reputation in the world?
“Actions speak a lot louder than words. So coming up with a business plan for the school that is going to take us to the next level, articulating that and making sure we’ve got support, will go a long way to responding to any criticism that we might receive from other sources.”
14. Are you comfortable with the budget you have to work with?
“That’s always an issue at the university. I think if we had a larger budget, we could do more in terms of improving quality. I think the more important thing is to be able to lay out an acceptable plan to the business community and show them exactly where the money is going. I’m pretty confident that we could raise enough money in the city of Calgary and from the alumni. I think with a well-articulated plan and a good description of where the money is going, we could certainly fund a program that would allow us to have a very top-rated school.”
15. Based on your experience, what’s the best advice you can offer a business school graduate?
“It would be to take the opportunities as they come and use the education that you’ve got to make the most of those opportunities in terms of what you deliver – and the opportunities will continue to open up in front of you.”
16. What’s your vision for Fording Canadian Coal Trust and your outlook for the coal industry?
“It’s to have the strongest Canadian metallurgical coal company that we can have, and one that can compete on an international scale with any of the others. We’re certainly in a position to do that in terms of the percentage that we have, with around 20 to 25 per cent of the internationally traded metallurgical coal market. The outlook for the coal market is very good. We’ve seen very strong demand from the market generally. In China, they’ve gone from importing more metallurgical coal and exporting less, and that has increased the level of demand. That helps us quite a bit in terms of our profitability.”
17. Do you foresee the trust model for businesses remaining strong in the next few years?
“To some degree, the popularity of the trust business has been driven by falling and low interest rates where investors are looking for a yield. I think today you’re seeing that the trust market is starting to become somewhat differentiated on the basis of quality. I think people are recognizing that trusts that have long-lived assets, even though they may produce commodities where the price is volatile, have a lot of underlying reserves and resources behind the cash-flow projections. I think people are able to separate those from ones where there is a lot more business risk and less short-term predictability. I think the trust unit business will probably continue to be a significant part of the capital markets, but I also think that a certain element might disappear if and when, and probably more when than if, interest rates start to climb back up.”
18. What’s your outlook for the economy?
“Overall, I’m reasonably optimistic on the economy. Certainly, on the commodities side, everything looks pretty good. I think interest rates are likely to go up from here in fairly small increments and likely remain at levels well below the high levels we saw back in the 1980s and early 1990s. I wouldn’t say it (economy) is kind of a runaway, but on balance it looks good rather than dismal. Being on the boards that I’m on gives me good exposure and good connections with some different businesses that actually do give you a sense for how the economy is doing. Certainly, each of those businesses would suggest that things look pretty good for a while.”
19. How long do you wish to remain CEO of Fording?
“I haven’t really thought about that. I’m enjoying the role and my involvement there so I don’t have any immediate plans to change.”
20. Are you looking forward to retirement?
“That’s a difficult question. My wife (Elaine) and I had been looking forward to taking it a bit easier once I finished with CP and PanCanadian Energy (when it merged with Alberta Energy to form EnCana in 2002). I viewed this opportunity at the university as much as an opportunity to give a little something back to the community, rather than another career. Part of my motivation was really driven by thinking I can help by taking on this job, and I’m happy to do that for a period of time. But I’m not anxious to take on a new career or other sort of work full time until I drop at my desk.”
* Titles: Dean, Haskayne School of Business (University of Calgary); chairman/CEO, Fording Canadian Coal Trust.
* Born/raised/age: Windsor, Ont./Calgary/60.
* Education: Harvard Business School, MBA; University of Alberta, bachelor of science (civil engineering).
* Family: Wife Elaine, two grown children.
* Career: Grandin was appointed dean of the Haskayne School for a five-year term in April. He has been chairman and CEO of Fording Canadian Coal Trust since 2003. He spent the first 10 years of his career in civil engineering with Montreal Engineering, Structural Design & Construction and Titan Prestressing (1966-76). After graduating from Harvard in 1978, he was a consultant with management consulting firm Arthur D. Little in Boston (1978-79). He then was vice-president, land, with Dome Petroleum (1979-86); managing director, Scotia Capital (1986-90); chief financial officer, PanCanadian Petroleum (1990-94); president/CEO, Sceptre Resources (1994-96); vice-chairman, Midland Walwyn (1996-97); CFO, Canadian Pacific (1997-01); and president, PanCanadian Petroleum (2001-02).
* Directorships: Grandin is currently on the boards of EnCana Corp., Ipsco Inc., Enerflex Systems, Pengrowth Corp. and the Investment Dealers Assoc. of Canada.
* Passions: Skiing, reading, golf.
Haskayne School of Business
* Programs: The Haskayne School provides two undergraduate programs (bachelor of commerce and bachelor of hotel & restaurant management) and graduate programs including an MBA, Alberta/Haskayne Executive MBA, international graduate program and a PhD program.
* History: The Haskayne School was founded in 1967 and is named in honour of prominent Calgary business leader and philanthropist Richard Haskayne.
* Grads: The Haskayne School has 14,000 alumni working in 50 countries.
* Address: University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. N.W., Calgary, T2N 1N4.
* Phone/Fax: 403-220-5685/ 282-0095.