Mark Carney profile: The 'film star' central banker

  • 30 June 2013
  • From the section Business
Mark Carney (left) and George Clooney
Image caption Some say Mark Carney (left) bears a striking resemblance to George Clooney

"He's going to tear through London like a lion. He's the guy you want to have at your table at dinner; you want to be on his side of the room at the cocktail party."

Not a rock star on tour, not the actor of the moment, but the incoming Bank of England governor Mark Carney, as described by fellow Canadian and former government colleague Scott Reid.

Likened more than once to Hollywood actor George Clooney, Carney's tidy hair and relaxed smile have helped him become something of a celebrity in his native Canada.

"He's just got it. He's got star quality, and he knows how to use it," says Reid. It is something first noticed when Carney was recruited to the Canadian Department of Finance, while Reid was deputy chief of staff to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

So what can the public, and his colleagues at the Bank, expect from the new man in the top job at the 319-year-old institution?

A very different banker

His appointment has been a break with tradition in many ways.

He is a Canadian, for a start, and as such is the first non-British appointment to the post. He hails from Canada's sparsely populated Northwest Territories where, "rural just doesn't describe it" according to Scott Reid.

He also has a commercial banking, as well as public sector background, unlike his two most recent predecessors who had spent their careers within the Bank and academia.

Mark Carney worked for investment banking giant Goldman Sachs for more than a decade, living in New York before returning to Canada to work for the Finance Department. He then went to the central bank, where he was governor throughout the global financial crisis.

Another difference is the size of his pay packet, which is well above that of the outgoing Sir Mervyn King's salary.

"He's doing things his way," says Reid. "Make no mistake, the move from investment banking to the public sector has been a very deliberate choice. He's got ambitions."

'Image conscious'

The Carney difference also stretches to the way he is with people, says Reid.

"He's extraordinarily charismatic. You just have to look at his news cuttings here in Canada and you can see how much press he gets.

"Then you go to his speeches and you'll find them just as dry as anyone's. They are not motivating, not captivating.

"But it's the way he does things, he takes the time to linger on you... and the public and the press find that very intoxicating.

"He such a fetching figure - but let's not be shy about that. He's conscious of it. He's shrewd when it comes to his image."

Married to an Englishwoman, the 48-year-old's postgraduate education was at Oxford University, where he studied economics.

'Cultural change'

His former tutor during his Masters degree, the economist Peter Oppenheimer, remembers him as an usually neat student.

"He was a typically bright, transatlantic student. Charming and well turned out. That sounds terribly old fashioned, but he wasn't the sort of young man who walked around in torn sweaters."

"Carney was light on his feet, intellectually speaking," he adds, "and he loved England."

But it is not just an anglophile streak which may assist him in his new role, says Oppenheimer. It is his past as a Goldman Sachs banker in New York.

"As a choice for this role, this is interesting. He wasn't an insider, he wasn't an academic economist, and he was a practical banker of a certain kind.

"The really good governors of the post-Second World War period have been people with practical banking experience, such as Gordon Richardson and Robin Leigh-Pemberton. They have been the outstanding governors. More so than Bank insiders, or people with long academic careers."

DeAnne Julius, the US-born economist, and former member of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee, agrees.

"Outside experience is important in this job, and as a foreigner, a broader perspective may help. The Bank of England needs a cultural change. This is clear. There's an important internal as well as external dimension in terms of how he needs to lead the bank."

'Governor's eyebrow'

So what should he do with his new job?

Peter Oppenheimer says that he would do well to remember the powers a Bank of England governor has at his disposal.

"The most important thing by far is personal oversight from the governor. The 'governor's eyebrow' it is called.

"Banks and the people who run them must conduct their business prudently and honestly, and if they don't, you sack them.

"Suitable distinguished bankers are not in plentiful supply."

DeAnne Julius agrees that while change is due, he must go cautiously.

"The British economy and the Bank of England are complex institutions, and I think he'd probably be wise to spend a little bit of time learning the job before bringing in any dramatic change."

For Peter Oppenheimer, he would simply welcome the chance to catch up with his former student.

"When the announcement was made of his appointment, he and I had a jolly email exchange, I said well done, and that I hoped that once he was in office I'd be allowed through the door to have a cup of coffee with him, and he assured me I'd be among his first guests. I'm looking forward very much to my invitation."

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