MONTREAL – For Dominic Barton, the invitation to apply his decades worth of experience as an international economic fixer at home was a “duty” he didn’t want to pass up.
The global managing director of consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has taken the role as chair of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s council of economic advisers. The group will help Ottawa find ways to inject some life into the country’s sagging growth.
Barton, a Canadian based in London, is a sought-after expert who travels the world helping presidents, governments and big corporations with economic strategy.
In the past, he said he has been invited to offer advice to Ottawa over the years, but never to this degree.
“It’s a duty, in my view, to do it,” Barton, who was born in Uganda and raised in British Columbia, told The Canadian Press in an interview.
“The only thing I feel is pressure. We’d better come up with something.”
Each of the 14 council members, including Barton, will earn $1 per year plus travel expenses for their efforts. The group, which held its first meeting Monday near Ottawa, is tasked with helping the country shape a long-term economic plan.
It’s the kind of expertise Barton has honed at his day job.
The Rhodes scholar has spent 30 years at McKinsey, which advises some of the world’s most-powerful corporations and political leaders. He has been at the helm of the firm since 2009.
Much of his career has focused on Asia, where he was McKinsey’s regional chair from 2004-09. Before that, he headed the company’s office in Korea for four years.
In his travels, including a meeting last week with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, he said some clients have no idea he’s a Canadian.
His track record, however, is no secret in the business world.
For example, Barton has worked closely with the leaders, including those from South Korea, Singapore and Colombia, to develop domestic growth plans.
Barton has also written and spoken frequently about the need for CEOs to abandon their fixation on the short-term and focus on the long-term as well.
This view appears to mesh with what the Liberals have been promoting for Canada since before last fall’s election.
Ottawa chose Barton not only for his credentials, but for his up-close experience all over the world, said one senior government official who was not authorized to speak on the record.
“As the global manager of this firm, he’s been exposed to what many countries have tried in terms of growth,” said the official.
“Sometimes unsuccessfully, sometimes successfully — and that brings a very important perspective to the table.”
He is expected to share his policy perspectives on trade, innovation and what could make the country competitive economically beyond two or three years.
Barton has maintained ties to Canada and has a cottage north of Toronto.
He’s also been working with Smart Prosperity, a group of experts who want to speed up the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and is a board member of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. He also sits on the advisory board for the non-partisan Ecofiscal Commission.
Barton has also advised Ottawa in the past.
McGill University economist Christopher Ragan, also chief spokesman for the Ecofiscal Commission, said he first met Barton about six or seven years ago when he invited him to attend a retreat hosted by then-finance minister Jim Flaherty.
Barton was among around 25 people around a table talking big-picture policy for about a day and a half, said Ragan, who is also a member of Morneau’s growth council.
“He’s kind of got this kind of a kid-like enthusiasm for stuff, it’s actually quite endearing,” said Ragan, who hosted a speaking event at McGill alongside Barton on Thursday night in Montreal.
“You’d think whoever is running McKinsey is likely to be kind of the cream of the cream — and it’s just an added cherry on top that he’s a Canadian… My guess is his Rolodex is one of the more coveted Rolodexes around.”
Barton was born in 1962 in Kampala, where his father was a missionary and his mother a nurse.
His family moved to Chilliwack, B.C., when he was seven years old. He believes his early childhood experience in Africa had a significant impact — one that led him to have more of an international perspective.
Barton studied economics at the University of British Columbia. After winning his Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University, he told a UBC newspaper in 1983 that he was interested in economic development.
“I’d eventually like to work in the area of Third World development,” he was quoted as saying.
Today, the tall, lean Barton is an avid distance runner who credits the sport for helping him overcome the jet lag that comes with his globe-circling job. On Sunday, he’s planning to run a half-marathon with his daughter in Sweden.
The growth council has offered him a chance to get even more involved in Canada, he said.
“That’s what’s also nice about this — to spend more time in Canada, be more linked.”
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