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U of T's Ed Clark returns home

Honorary degree recipient shares U of T memories

Ed Clark addresses graduating students at June 2012 convocation (Photo by Johnny Guatto)

Ed Clark, Group President and CEO, TD Bank Group was recently awarded an honorary degree by U of T. He graduated from U of T in 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and earned his master's degree and doctorate in economics from Harvard University in 1971 and 1974 respectively. Chair of the School of Public Policy & Governance's Advisory Board, Clark has strong ties with the university: his father taught here, his son and two daughters-in-law are alumni, and he met his wife on campus. At convocation in June, he spoke to students about his ties to U of T and about the role alumni have to play in the coming years in the workplace. We had a chance to interview him about his U of T experience.

In your recent convocation speech to graduates at U of T, you talked about your strong ties to the university and about your father teaching here.  How did that influence your time here as a student?

My father started teaching here in 1938. He started the Department of Sociology. As I grew up the university was a centrepiece of family discussions.  I can remember what is now the conservatory of music used to be the sociology department. I would go to the top floor and watch the Argonauts play because you could see them from there in Varsity stadium. So I have lots of fond memories at U of T.

Was there a career-altering moment you experienced at U of T that shaped your path to finance?

What I would say is that when I went from my undergraduate degree at U of T to do my graduate degree at Harvard University, it was very obvious I had had the more intense and better education in economics than any of the people arriving from American schools. I had a huge competitive advantage. Many of the things you had to learn your first year in your program there, I had already learned. So I’d say that was pretty decisive.

What do you remember about economics education and experience here at that time?
One professor who was very close to me was David Knowland who taught mathematical economics. There were some fantastic professors here. The other thing I remember is that I lived in Sir Daniel Wilson residence and my wife lived in Whitney Hall, and that’s how we met.

In your speech, you also told students about protesting Dow’s recruitment on the U of T campus in front of Simcoe Hall with your wife, and marching in Washington to protest the Vietnam War after listening to a provocative speech by President Nixon.  What kind of role did you take in having a student voice on campus?

There were people like Steven Langdon and Bob Rae who were much bigger leaders on campus. But I was certainly intellectually involved in matters. Our generation was framed by the two things: the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement in the US.  Those were the defining moments of my political views at that time. I had friends at Harvard who had friends in the Vietnam War who never came back.

You mentioned in your convocation address that when you were on campus, the Soviet Union was still seen as strong and dangerous and that the United States was economically dominant.   Did that influence the kinds of courses you took or the direction you took academically?

No I don’t think so. My mother was an economist so it was a very natural topic in my house. As it turned out I’m now into business but businesses are built around understanding the economy and where things are going.  So I found all that pretty fascinating. It wasn’t politically driven. I have always been fascinated by the economy.

There has been a lot of doom and gloom in the media about the value of a post-secondary education. You’re obviously a supporter of post-secondary education: what is your opinion on this idea?

There’s a real debate about whether someone who graduates with an undergraduate degree has a complete education. In my day, for instance, we would write multiple essays for every course we took, so you did learn how to write. The teacher-student ratio also allowed for pretty intimate settings to learn. The good news is that people here understand the core issues around the debate and, in some cases, have made the student experience better.  Nowadays, Arts and Science undergrads do have access to smaller seminar groups, which also emphasize the development of oral and written arguments. At the end of the day, post-secondary education remains the best investment you can make in life. And its value will only increase in a knowledge economy.

What’s one thing people didn’t know you about you as a student?
I’ve never been a very closed book so I think most people knew a lot about me. But I don’t think you would have found many people who would have thought I’d be running a bank at the end of my career. But that’s my point about luck; it’s a lot of chance and happenstance that determine your career.