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Alumni Profile: Gord Nixon '74

Former CEO of Royal Bank of Canada
Corporate Director and Chairman of Bell Canada Enterprises

By any standards, Gord Nixon has reached an extraordinary level of professional success. A 13-year tenure as CEO at the Royal Bank of Canada came to an end in 2014 with his retirement, but the pace is still frenetic. Not one to rest on his laurels, Gord is currently Chairman of the Board of Bell Canada Enterprises, a director of George Weston Limited and BlackRock, and he is serving on the advisory board of KingSett Capital.

Still, when asked about his most significant achievements, Gord turns to family. “I am most proud of my three kids,” he says. “If you get that right, then nothing else can exceed it.” Beyond this, Gord acknowledges that reaching his position in the business community has been a tremendous accomplishment. He launched his career at Dominion Securities in Toronto working in global markets and investment banking, and climbed the ranks of the financial industry from there. That career trajectory included a brief stint in Tokyo where he assumed responsibility for the firm’s operations in Japan, and various roles at RBC before his appointment as CEO in 2001.

The list of prestigious awards and recognitions that Gord has received is long. He is particularly honoured by the Order of Canada which he was awarded for his contributions to banking and for his charitable work and philanthropy. “Being recognized for my service to the country and to the community is something I hold very dear,” he says.

Throughout his career, Gord has always been involved in charitable causes, and he believes that LCC played an important role in his becoming community-minded. “What I learned at LCC about community involvement was foundational,” he says. “It served as a critical basis for my thinking about community and my role in it.”

Although he admits that his proclivity to give back – in what he considers a significant way – came somewhat later in his career, he has made up for lost time. He is chairman of MaRS, a not-for-profit organization that connects science, business and capital, and is a director of the Art Gallery of Ontario. He is past chairman of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the Premier’s Jobs and Prosperity Council, and has served as a director of a number of organizations in the arts, health care and education.

For Gord, the LCC experience was influential in many other ways as well. “I think that any individual is a reflection of his or her history, whether that means parental upbringing, schooling or clubs,” he says. “The academics at LCC, the friendships that I developed, the athletics that I was involved in, the leadership positions that I held as captain of the football team and assistant captain of the hockey team, were all instrumental in my development. My time there laid a solid foundation for the next stages of my life.”

With a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree from Queen’s University, as well as an Honourary Doctor of Laws from both Queen’s and Dalhousie universities, and having reached such great heights in the business world, Gord’s insights on how to achieve success are particularly valuable. “One thing I tell young people is that it’s important to always be learning,” he says. “You don’t necessarily want to emulate the behaviour of other people, but you can learn from mentors, people you work for and with, and try to identify the things that have been helpful in their careers so that you can embed them in your own life. I’m a great believer in the fact that people can and do evolve and change.”

With all that Gord has achieved it is interesting to note that failure, he believes, is not necessarily a bad thing. “No one should ever be afraid to take the road less travelled, to take chances, he says. “Risk-takers will ultimately benefit in the long run.”