Requiem for a pylon.
John Manley's days as a director of the bankrupt Nortel are winding down, of course. For about four years Manley and his fellow Nortel directors allowed Canada's longtime R&D flagship to glide into irrelevance and ultimately the grave.
With the same regularity that flamingos are spotted north of the tree line, the occasional independent director will lead a coup to replace a bad CEO. It happened at GM in the early 1990s. Otherwise, corporate directors are pylons. Manley conformed to that norm, shaking his head in disbelief as Nortel let one opportunity for salvation after another pass it by, and passed up his own opportunity to resign in disgust. (Colin Powell, pre-Iraq invasion, is the gold standard in that department.)
Manley's now turning over the sod for his own departure from public life, preparing for a stint as CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. No one of influence pays the CCCE any heed, even its members. In a metaphysical sense it doesn't quite exist.
A sad end for a boy-scout pol given to un-Canadian bursts of patriotism.
But also a bungler, dissing the monarchy ahead of a royal visit. (I'm a republican too, but the timing, for a federal cabinet minister, was a bit off.) Easily bested by Gary Bettman in his fool's errand to repatriate NHL clubs. (Worthy cause, bumbling execution). A whiny, indecisive campaigner for the Grit leadership.
Post 9/11, Manley was easily panicked, urging a "North American perimeter" to block Canada off from the world and effectively merge it with the U.S. He cozied up to Tom Ridge, and possibly was alone in failing to grasp that Ridge's colour-code terrorism-warning gimmick was a production of the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. And he was a stooge for Harper in the PM's sop to Canadians alarmed by the Afghan quagmire, heading a panel that studied our military involvement there to no discernible effect.
Manley's now passing the time as a professional corporate director, at CIBC, the only Canadian bank gulled by purveyors of packaged subprimes. And at Nortel, where earlier this year he joined other directors in voting themselves compensation in cash rather than stock. That, of course, was a craven breach of the "alignment of management and directors with everyday shareholders" to which the corporate world pays only lip sevice. (The stock has, of course, since been delisted.)
Paul Wells of Maclean's, counting himself fortunate to score an interview with Manley at his Ontario cottage, blows a few air kisses John's way, letting Manley bemoan the sad state of Canadian technological prowess. "Innovate or perish," says the former industry minister whose triumphs in that portfolio escape us at the moment.
"The world is changing so quickly that the inability to find ways to adapt to the changing environment is detrimental, not only to the business sector, but to the country's prosperity as a whole. I don't think you could say that innovation is deeply in the DNA of our Canadian business enterprises."
Yadda, yadda. You've heard that Board of Trade speech too.
Oh, it's true that government outspends the private sector on R&D by a wide margin. It tends to be that way in a branch-plant economy like Canada. It's always been the idea in this neck of the woods to launch an enterprise, sell out to deep-pocketed foreign interests rather than risk taking the next big step, and retire to a sunny tax haven well stocked in Glenlivet.
Speaking of that crippling phenomenon, which oddly doesn't afflict most of our OECD rivals, Manley had his chance to help eradicate that curse at Nortel. But since his arrival there in 2004, Manley and his fellow directors instead presided over the soon-to-be-foreign-owned Nortel's demise. He helped appoint and over-compensate Nortel's last two, failed, CEOs. He joined in approving their inept conduct as they made pretty much every mistake one could in running a tech multinational. Recently, Manley delivered himself of a fulsome eulogy for the fallen tech giant in a Financial Post saga about that firm's gradual decomposition:.
“It is a huge loss for Canada and for our Canadian research and development...[I am] personally and deeply saddened by what’s happened. And I am heartsick about the impact on individuals. One of the things that always impressed me about Nortel is the loyalty that employees, and former employees, had toward the company. It is a tragedy.”
That was too much for Mark Evans, respected tech observer whose websites include a well-trafficked one devoted to "all things Nortel." Says Evans:
"With all due respect, shouldn’t Manley and his fellow board members be taking a healthy part of the blame for Nortel’s demise as opposed to lamenting how they are 'saddened' that Nortel has decided to concede defeat by selling all of its assets at firesale prices?...At the end of the day, Manley and his fellow corporate directors will have to take their share of the blame...If Manley was smart, he’d be wise to stay away from offering his condolences given he’s had a ringside seat to one of Canada’s biggest corporate declines."
Manley has made official his retirement from People To Take Seriously by accepting the post of CEO of the CCCE, formerly the Business Council on National Issues, and always the soapbox for the indefatigably pompous Tom D'Aquino, who invented himself and the BCNI pretty much in tandem. Someday we'll detail the raison d'etre of trade and vocational associations. Which roughly is to provide a shield behind which its not-ready-for-prime-time members can hide from public view, letting their polished front man experiment with eloquent pleas for special treatment crafted as appeals to the betterment of the commonweal.
There are but three priorities for business in its brushes with government: tax relief, abeyance from regulatory supervision, and having their gluttonous appetite for taxpayer handouts sated. The CCCE, overstocked with CEOs of branch plants, should be a good fit with Manley, given his U.S. sycophancy and eager identification with the aforementioned business priorities.
Which, again, is sad. Early on, that boy scout thing caught us with our hopes up.
[Ed.- Maybe that's our claim to fame. This is one of the few nations where managers of branch plants, like the head of General Motors of Canada Ltd., get to be called CEOs. When their tour of duty is up, they resurface at head office in Stuttgart or Cincinnati as vice-presidents of extruded monomer production, which, in the parent's global scheme of things, is actually a promotion.]
For the purposes of this blog, the inception of the Great Recession in the U.S., the epicentre of the crisis, is taken as the start date for the global slump. The U.S. has been in recession since December 2007.