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“You do understand it’s a lottery,” says the fired executive. “You know the whole damn thing’s a lottery.” The fired executive is talking about life, that damn thing, that single ticket you’re given. Punched once, you’re done. Adios.
So the executive, who enjoyed the benefits that come along with a multimillion-dollar salary and a chief executive officer’s title, up and fired himself four weeks ago, an act that has put him in the mood to reflect on the past 40 years playing the capitalism game.
It’s a good year for reflection.
The year the eurozone went to hell in a handbasket. The year of the Occupy movement. The year of economic foreboding. There’s 1 per cent. There’s 99 per cent. There’s one-tenth of 1 per cent. Like this guy. So.
Ian Delaney often reaches for small words and sprinkles them over the boardroom table as if they were full sentences.
He still has a boardroom table because he has chosen to remain as chairman of Sherritt International Corp., a company I first encountered when Delaney and two chums conducted a hostile takeover of what was then a sleepy company which, as I wrote at the time, was in “the very unsexy businesses of fertilizer, nickel-refining and the manufacture of coin plugs.”
Needless to say, Delaney et al. were victorious.
“It was rooted in righteous arrogance that I don’t think you possess to the same degree when you’re older,” says Delaney, now 68.
It was really fun.
Twenty-one years later. So much has happened. Sherritt’s foray into Cuba was big, huge, targeted to the Moa Bay nickel refinery. . . oh let’s not worry all the little details. The play positioned Delaney as pro-Castro, anti Helms-Burton, the act that lassoed companies that trafficked in what once were U.S. assets. The walls of the boardroom are filled with Jesse Helms editorial cartoons.
Delaney, still blacklisted from travelling in the U.S., uses his house in Havana when he wants to meet with U.S. political heavyweights.
This is amusing.
Let’s travel back in time. Who remembers the ’70s?
Delaney does. Steel-trap mind. “I was in Toronto in 1973. I was sitting on a bond trading desk at Merrill (Lynch). I was probably making all of $30,000 a year.”
You think Europe’s state of affairs today is perilous.
“In the world we live in today,” says Delaney, dropping the thought, restarting. “Pick up this morning’s newspaper you see the euro. Is the euro going to survive? What are the Chinese going to do? It’s perhaps not well remembered but in the ’70s the IMF was running the Bank of England, the French couldn’t sort out their currency — they ended up with a two-tiered franc. Every currency crashed and burned.”
The executives on the top then had come through the expansionist ’60s, fat and happy. “Business in the ’60s was a dead cert,” Delaney says, which makes me wonder, too late to ask, whether his army officer father was a template for his clipped speaking style.
Dad drove a Studebaker. A single income supported a family of four.
“If you want an interesting exercise, Google ‘income distribution’ in Toronto. There’s a half-hour of good reading there that will tell you we’ve killed the middle class in this city. We’ve driven them out. . . . So the folks in Occupy Wall Street or Occupy London, I don’t think they’re going to get much traction. The real issue is the wage earner in North America with a couple of kids who just can’t get going this year the way he did last year, the way he did the year before that.”
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1108883–sherritt-ceo-reflects-on-40-years-in-the-capitalism-game