Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From bank teller to Bay St. boardroom

Former Winnipegger saw profits triple under his watch as Scotiabank CEO

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Rick Waugh is retiring as president and CEO of the Bank of Nova Scotia at the end of this month and Winnipeg will lose an important and powerful ally in the boardrooms of Bay Street and financial capitals around the world.

The 65-year-old University of Manitoba grad worked at the bank for 43 years, the last 10 as the CEO. (His first year was at the Bank of Nova Scotia branch in a strip mall in Windsor Park that continues to operate today.)

During his time at the helm the bank, profits tripled to $6.5 billion last year from $2 billion in 2003. During that time, Scotiabank had an average annual return of 11 per cent and a total return of about 169 per cent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

'Hard work, a sense of humour, having the right values has paid off for me and my career and hopefully for the bank as well'

He was the CEO of Canada's most international bank -- Scotiabank has operations in 55 countries -- during the most severe global financial crisis since the Great Depression.

He leaves having overseen tremendous growth -- including about 40 acquisitions totalling about $13 billion during his watch -- with a workforce of 83,000 people, almost twice as many as when he took over.

In an interview with the Free Press -- and in a number of media interviews he's done on the occasion of his retirement -- he is keen to reference his Winnipeg roots.

As a way of tying in a couple of things he's proud of -- his Winnipeg heritage and the sprawling international footprint of the Bank of Nova Scotia -- he likes to talk about the irony that when he started with the bank at barely 20 years old, he'd hardly flown anywhere and was not so keen to take his first flight to Toronto when the bank quickly got him on the fast track for promotion.

"Initially, I did not want to leave Winnipeg to go to Toronto," he said. "And then I end up as the head of Canada's most international banks and I have flown so many times to so many places that I am probably one of the most travelled Canadians in the business world."

That statement should not be construed as bragging, because in the era of the celebrity CEO, Waugh has kept a decidedly low profile (his eight-figure annual salary notwithstanding.)

"We have a slogan at Scotiabank -- One team, one goal," he said. "It really has been a team effort. I try to stay a little below the radar screen. Maybe it's my Winnipeg populist roots, but we don't take ourselves too much for granted. Hard work, a sense of humour, having the right values has paid off for me and my career and hopefully for the bank as well."

As further indication of his belief in the team ethos, when asked if there were any moments or events that stood out in his career, rather than detail some of the banks's bigger acquisitions or victories over competitors in certain transactions, Waugh said he is just happy the bank will continue as a successful, well-diversified enterprise, a trend that he believes will continue.

"When people ask me what I think is my greatest legacy, I think it's that I survived for 43 years and I am able to leave with a smile on my face," he said. "There have been lots of disappointments, lots of things you wish you had not done but on balance -- and life is all about balance -- I think I feel pretty good about it."

With branches throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, South America and Southeast Asia, he believes Scotiabank has more opportunities to continue to grow in those markets.

"The Canadian brand has never been better," he said. "At the same time, European and U.S. banks have been very significantly hurt in the crisis. We have made use of this opportunity and there continue to be opportunities in emerging markets."

After all that travel for business, he said that's the one thing he's not going to do in retirement.

He happily reported the recent arrival of his first granddaughter -- the first girl born into the Waugh family in 97 years -- and the fact his wife will not have to be a single grandparent.

He said he plans to dedicate lots of time to the Waugh Family Foundation -- where one of its significant contributions to date has been to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. He sits on the museum's advisory council and continues to be active with the University of Manitoba and the Associates of the Asper School of Business.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 B6

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