Mark Carney to 2016 grads: ‘Be flexible and adventurous’

For the record: What the Bank of England governor told graduates at the University of Alberta

Bank Of England Governor Mark Carney News Conference On Polymer Banknotes

Mark Carney’s commencement address at the University of Alberta on June 7:

Eminent Chancellor, President, Representative on the Board of Governors, graduands, friends, proud parents and bored siblings.

I am honoured to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Alberta School of Business.

Honoured and thrilled.

Finally, like my father, mother and sister before me, I will get a degree from the University of Alberta. Unlike me, they earned it. More to the point, so have you.

Congratulations! You, your family and friends should be exceptionally proud.

I missed my first chance to be a Golden Bear when I left Edmonton in the mid-1980s.

Then, oil prices had fallen by a half, Trudeau was Prime Minister, and Ghostbusters was a summer hit.

Plus ça change.

Actually the world is much altered. [For one thing, mullets are no longer really acceptable. Of course, you shouldn’t rely on a central banker for fashion advice. After all, I’m still a Belieber.]

Related reading: Samantha Power to the Class of 2016: ‘Get close. Lean in.’

More seriously, compared to me, you are graduating in highly uncertain times.

A series of economic, technological and cultural shifts are changing how we communicate, work and live. And this pace of change is accelerating.

At the same time, the world has been hit by a series of profound geopolitical and economic shocks. Affect bias, an economic form of post-traumatic stress disorder that induces consumer and corporate caution, is weighing on global growth. Moreover, questions are being raised about the effectiveness of macro-economic policies, the merits of global markets, and even the sustainability of our traditional engines of growth.

I hope you had fun last night because you can always count on a central banker to kill the buzz.

To ensure I still get my degree, I had better turn upbeat [after all, my mother is watching].

Amidst global uncertainty lies great opportunity–and responsibility–for you, as business graduates, to build the new economic and social engines of our shared prosperity.

Your generation will determine how well the world commercializes fundamental breakthroughs in areas such as new energy technologies, biotech and fintech.

And your generation will determine whether we build the social capital for shared prosperity consistent with the values of this university and country.

One thing I can assure you from experience is that the road ahead will not be straight.

Related reading: Arianna Huffington to 2016 grads: ‘Safeguard your attention’

The macro uncertainty I mentioned is mirrored in all our lives. It is entirely unrealistic to map out the decades ahead. Many of the jobs and even the industries of today will be gone tomorrow.

As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon was a member of the Beatles … They were a British rock band.

Whenever I meet older alumni, I find they’re often surprised by where they’ve ended up. And I don’t mean after a night out at RATT. No, I mean that those old enough to remember the Beatles are often surprised where their careers have taken them. Whether they’re pleased usually depends on whether they’ve continued to pursue their interests, stayed true to their values, and given back to their communities.

Related reading: David Brooks: ‘To have a fulfilling life, you have to make promises’

In my experience, some simple decision rules for an uncertain world are to:
— Be flexible and adventurous as you begin your careers;

— Pick opportunities that give you a chance to learn new things and grow as a person; and

— Think of every job as a potential investment in yourself – not only worthwhile in and of itself, but also something that will prepare you for the next opportunity that comes along.

In these ways, you will build adaptability, enjoy yourself and be more likely to succeed.

And when success comes—I mean more success because after all today you are all graduating—it’ll be important to remember the role that chance plays in all of our lives as well as the responsibilities that come with that.

I should know since it is a total accident of history that I am Governor of the Bank of England. Indeed, many in the UK are still wondering how it happened. I never set out to be a central banker. After studying economics, I worked for years as an investment banker moving jobs every 18-24 months across three continents. While the variety was stimulating, I found that I enjoyed the most working on issues where the public and private sectors intersected from post- apartheid South Africa to pre-privatisation Ontario.

Related reading: Sheryl Sandberg: ‘The lessons that I only learned in death’ 

So when the opportunity to join the Bank of Canada arose, I leapt at it.

Fortunately, by pursuing what had interested me the most, I’d acquired just enough markets and quasi-public policy experience to get through the Bank’s big brass doors. I welcomed the good fortune to learn about everything from management to monetarism from the then-Governor David Dodge—one of the finest public servants this country has ever produced. And I was pleased to be able to give something back to this great country which had educated me, inspired me and yes, given me my chance.

When I was appointed Governor of the Bank of Canada, I thought that, for the first time since Grade Five, I knew what I’ll be doing for the next seven years. David and his colleagues had left the economy and financial system in great shape.

Only eight regularly scheduled interest rate decisions a year. All I had to do was set the cruise control and not mess it up. Oops. The global financial crisis began almost immediately, putting paid to my idea that central banking would mean a quiet life, away from the sound and fury of the private sector. Through those harrowing years—and enough time has passed and sufficient memoirs have been written that I can safely use that adjective—I learned from colleagues including the principled economics of Mervyn King, the nous of Glenn Stevens, the focus of Tim Geithner who always reminded us that “Plan beats no plan,” and the calm, inclusive decisiveness of Ben Bernanke.

So my current role results from following my interests, a series of chance encounters and many great mentors. From my parents’ dedication to education, to the inspirational teachers at my high school, St FX, to clients in the private sector who were building businesses for the long term, and to my exceptionally dedicated and talented colleagues at the Bank of England, I have been extraordinarily fortunate to learn from a remarkable group of people how to address complex problems under uncertainty and pressure.

As Michael Lewis once one said, “This isn’t just false modesty, it’s false modesty with a point.”

The point is that we are all fortunate. My luck is obvious.

You are fortunate to have studied at the University of Alberta, to be young in Canada at this time, to have had family, friends, and mentors who have inspired you to learn and develop.

This is the positive aspect of uncertainty. Chance has smiled on you — graduating as you are at a unique time in history, with challenges for sure, but also with the possibilities that reach well beyond those of the past.

Today, those who are given talent and opportunity can reap tremendous rewards. Gains to success are magnified in a global marketplace. Now is the time to be famous or fortunate.

But as Luke records, of those to whom much is given much is expected.

Recognising that none of us truly succeed entirely on our own, points to our responsibility for improving the systems in which we work and live.

Economic and political philosophers from Adam Smith to Frederick Hayek have long espoused the importance of values, beliefs and culture in economic life.

Values such as personal responsibility, hard work, honesty and respect; values that are bred in the bone here in Alberta. Values that are part of our inherited social capital, social capital which provides the essential framework for the free market.

Related reading: Lin-Manuel Miranda: ‘Your stories are essential’ 

It is our responsibility to reinforce these values and to pass them on. Even here, we can’t take them for granted given the inherent tension between an exclusive focus on economic capital which recognises the primacy of the individual and social capital which requires from individuals a broader sense of responsibility for the system.

Allow me to speak from experience. The severity of the financial crisis showed what happens when those responsibilities are not widely held. In the run-up to the crisis, banking became about banks not businesses; transactions not relations; counterparties not clients.

The crisis undermined trust, and with it the social capital needed for markets to be effective.

Now the best in finance are regaining their sense of purpose by recognizing that finance is not an end in itself but a means to promote investment, innovation, growth and prosperity.

As the economist John Kay remarked, profit is no more the purpose of business than is breathing the purpose of living. The best organisations are grounded in broader purposes, in crafting solutions for others. Banking, for instance, is fundamentally about connecting borrowers and savers in the real economy.

Wherever we work—in business, government or the charitable sector— we must be grounded in strong connections to our clients and our communities.

We need to be custodians of our institutions, improving them before passing them on to our successors.

By taking with you the core values of the University of Alberta, you can lead the charge.

Your can live the promise of the University’s core mission of “uplifting the whole people.”

Quaecumque vera. To pursue: (1) “whatsoever things are true…honest [and] just…if there be any virtue and there be any praise, think on these things.”

In so doing, you will be a good ancestor and leave a legacy as great as the founders of this University and its business school.

So, from today, it is down to you. To deliver the future you want to create.

With your energy and education, you will see what should come next. But vision isn’t enough. You need to agitate to get in the room where it all happens, and you will need to have a plan once you get there.

That plan, like life’s plan, won’t unfold seamlessly.

Nor will the plans of Alberta or Canada, but they will all advance if you make the right choices and keep at it.

The future may be uncertain, progress may be uneven, and, as Martin Luther King said “The arc of the moral universe may be long, but it bends towards justice.” And prosperity.

How quickly it does is now your choice.

Congratulations Class of 2016. And good luck, with all the responsibilities that come with it.

(1) The University of Alberta’s motto is Quaecumque vera. Quaecumque vera means “whatsoever things are true” and is taken from the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians, Chapter 4, Verse 8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and there be any praise, think on these things.”

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