Canada Co.'s shortlist for CEO: Headhunters look at three candidates in PM race

With the coming federal election, let's pretend Canada is a large national company. And -- putting politics and policy aside -- let's look at the party leaders in the same way executive recruiters do when searching for top talent for client companies.

In our business, the client in a chief executive search is typically the board of directors. In this case, the board of directors of Canada Co. is the Canadian electorate.

From the headhunter's prism, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and Jack Layton bring to the table very different pros and cons. (Since our client Canada Co. is a large national corporation, not a "Nationalist company," we will gloss over Gilles Duceppe.)

Business and politics are different in many, many ways. However, a chief executive and a Prime Minister must share certain attributes to be successful.

Those attributes include the ability to lead others and the stomach to make tough, and sometimes unpopular, decisions.

Good CEOs and PMs succeed by drawing upon relevant experience, exercising honed technical skills and exhibiting a personality that ignites passion and motivation in others. One quick caveat to this analysis: Although we are presenting the candidates to the board of directors of fictional Canada Co., under normal circumstances we would have executed exhaustive pre-search due diligence and extensive research before coming up with three candidates.

Often the initial list of candidates exceeds 100 before we start paring it down to the excellent candidates. In this case, the client demands different skills at different times. The need to adapt to the times is similar to business; with perhaps shorter time frames. For example, Canada Co. demanded the skills of a Pierre Trudeau at one time, and then shortly thereafter, it wanted the very different abilities of a Brian Mulroney. Not unlike Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, which looked to John Hunkin to steer the bank during one period, and then immediately afterward called upon a different type of banker, Gerald McCaughey, to take the helm when times changed.


Today the board of directors of Canada Co. demands a leader, or CEO, with: - Strong and impeccable ethics;

- A defined and unwavering vision of the country to allow the formulation and implementation of policy that nurtures growth;

- An ability to enhance company morale.


Through the eyes of executive recruiters, who fits the bill best? Let's take a look at what each brings to the table.

Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, sports lots of senior-level operating experience. Most of his experience is at the municipal level. But this serves him well because the Metropolitan Toronto government, where he helped establish an NDP-led coalition, is bigger than some provincial governments. Under the current minority government in Ottawa, Layton has gained credibility by making the NDP relevant again on the Canadian political landscape. He appears steadfast in his beliefs and is a strong communicator.

As a negotiator, Layton has proved successful by getting the Liberals to rewrite last spring's budget with more social spending in exchange for NDP support in a vote of non-confidence last May. However, Layton's managerial skills have been questioned. Some argue he has alienated the party's traditional base of rural/western regions by shifting focus to vote-rich urban areas. This shift may be essential for long-term viability, but a chief executive must find creative ways to bring change with minimal short-term internal damage. He also fights an image of being cavalier, as witnessed by the fire he came under for comments he made blaming the Prime Minister for the deaths of homeless people in Toronto. Layton's attributes likely get outweighed by a leadership style that will not attract anyone who does not already have like political leanings.

What Stephen Harper lacks in operational experience, he makes up for in his knowledge of the inner workings of senior management as a policy advisor on economic and social issues. The Conservative leader is smart, but may like the intellectual label a little too much. In terms of ethics, he resigned "on principle" from both the Trudeau Liberals, when he was young, and the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney.

His supporters use this as testimony to his courage to back up his beliefs with action. His detractors call it "party jumping." Harper is not the most at ease before the media or when giving public speeches, but his communication skills are improving as he tries to reach out and show a more sympathetic, gentler side.

He still lacks the apparent ability to broadly reach beyond his social conservative power base to inspire and motivate Canadians. He strikes fear in some by presenting a "take me or leave me" attitude and he has been accused of holding things back, such as a hidden agenda for health-care reform. Harper has also struggled with "company" morale issues by saying things too bluntly. His "culture of defeat" comment about Maritimers comes to mind. In some ways, Harper reminds us of a Bill Gates-type of leader: someone who struggles with communicating to everyday folk and is accused of bully tactics by adversaries. Throughout the years, Gates has softened this image. Harper needs to do the same.

Paul Martin must have saddle sores from carrying the bag on ethical questions related to his predecessor and the previous government. As the former chief financial officer of Canada Co., Martin is long on experience and successful financial management practices but tainted, perhaps unfairly, by association. Even though the Gomery Report cleared him of wrongdoing in the Sponsorship Scandal, he has been marked nonetheless by the slush-fund scandal that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

In his role as the current chief executive officer, Liberal leader Martin has shown flexibility and creativity in maintaining power with a minority government. He comes across as diplomatic, sensitive and a good listener. The problem is he also comes across as waffling (hence the nickname Mr. Dithers), or someone willing to give into demands to maintain power.

But, in fairness, he is standing firmer in recent weeks. There are parallels between Martin and Anthony Eden, the short-lived Prime Minister of Great Britain who waited so long for the CEO job at "U.K. Inc." only to appear less comfortable than we would have thought when he finally got into the chair.


After reviewing the candidates' strengths and weaknesses, we recommend hiring Canada Co.'s next CEO on an interim basis. During this period, the board should commission a detailed and comprehensive search to scour the country for other potentially strong candidates, including the incumbent as a candidate.

Extensive search, anchored in research, always optimizes the quality of candidates by locating and recruiting candidates who may not be actively looking for a change of mandate but in the end could be the ideal CEO for the job.


HON. STEPHEN JOSEPH HARPER P.C., M.P., B.A., M.A. BORN: Toronto, April 30, 1959

EDUCATION: U. of Calgary B.A. 1985, M.A. 1991

POLITICS: Founding member, Reform Party, 1987; Elected House of Commons, 1993;

Leader, Canadian Alliance Party 2002-03; Leader, Conservative Party 2004-; Opposition Leader, 2002-

JACK LAYTON M.P., B.A., M.A., Ph.D. BORN: Hudson, Que., July 18, 1950 EDUCATION: McGill U. B.A., (Hons) 1970, York U. M.A. 1972, Ph.D. 1984 POLITICS City councillor Toronto 1982-2003; Deputy Mayor, Toronto 1990; Pres. Federation of Canadian Municipalities 2001; Elected House of Commons 2004; NDP leader, 2003-

THE RT. HON. PAUL MARTIN P.C., M.P., B.A., LL.B. BORN: Windsor, Ont., Aug. 28, 1938 EDUCATION: U. of Ottawa; U. of Toronto B.A. 1962, LL.B. 1965; POLITICS Elected House of Commons 1988; Finance Minister, 1993-2002; Liberal Leader, Prime Minister 2003-; Business Former chairman, CEO, Canada Steamship Lines Inc.

Jay Rosenzweig and Alan Zelnicker are with Rosenzweig & Company, a leading senior executive search firm in Toronto.