PROFILE: Mark Carney

Mark Carney, a Northwest Territories native who has a Harvard-and-Oxford education, is widely praised for leading the Bank of Canada since 2008. He will undoubtedly see his profile rise even higher as the new head of the Bank of England.
Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney delivers a speech to the Canadian Club of Ottawa in Ottawa on May 16, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

When Mark Carney was named governor of the Bank of Canada in 2007, the appointment was something of a surprise.

After all, many analysts thought the job would go to the bank's deputy governor, and while Carney had a stellar Wall Street background, he didn't have a long track record in public service. He had also spent quite a few years outside Canada in the private sector.

Turns out none of the early rumblings mattered. Observers have roundly praised Carney's stewardship of the Bank of Canada during three years of global economic crisis, and now the governor sees his profile rising even higher on the world stage.

At a news conference on Nov. 26, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that Carney has accepted a job as the next governor of the Bank of England, starting July 1.

This is a highly unconventional appointment. As Flaherty pointed out, this is the first time a foreign national has been made head of the Bank of England.

It's just the latest evidence that Carney's stewardship of the Bank of Canada during the economic crisis drew attention outside the country.

Last November, leaders of the G20 group of nations appointed Carney head of the Swiss-based Financial Stability Board. It was a part-time job that didn't require Carney to leave the Bank of Canada.

That appointment came about five months after Carney's name was touted as someone who might take the helm of the International Monetary Fund.

"He has phenomenal credibility globally," says Louis Gagnon, a finance professor in the School of Business at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

'Young, good-looking and charming'

"Central bankers aren't often young, good-looking and charming, but Mark Carney is all three — not to mention wicked smart," Time magazine declared in 2010 when it included him on its list of the world's most influential policy makers.

Even Reader's Digest has waded into the Carney watch, naming him the "most trusted Canadian."

Gagnon looks at Carney and sees a long list of skills and abilities behind his sterling reputation. Top of the list is his intelligence.

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, left, walks with Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti between meetings at the G20 meeting of finance ministers at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C., on April 24, 2010. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

"He's a very smart, very, very sharp man," says Gagnon, who points also to the guarded, controlled way Carney has of interacting with the marketplace.

"He weighs his words extremely carefully. Every time he comes to the microphone, you can sense the incredible sharpness of the man."

Born in Fort Smith, N.W.T., Carney spent his first six years there, before his family moved to Edmonton. In high school, he played goalie on the hockey team, and was valedictorian. After a bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard in 1988, he crossed the Atlantic and worked for investment bank Goldman Sachs' London office and also earned a master's and doctorate in the same subject from Oxford University.

By 2003, Carney had spent 13 years in the private sector, moving up the ranks with Goldman Sachs in postings to London, Tokyo, New York and Toronto.

That experience put Carney in good standing at the Bank of Canada, particularly as the economic crisis unfolded.

'Knows how the markets react'

"He knows how markets react," John Kirton of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, told CBC News. "That's what caught everybody by surprise. Complex derivatives ... all of the fancy stuff.

"If you work at Goldman Sachs, you know how that stuff works."

After the private sector work, Carney went public, with posts at the Bank of Canada and the federal Department of Finance.

Gagnon says there's no question that Carney's background has been an asset in his role at the central bank.

Many factors played into Canada's ability to cope better than many nations with the economic crisis, but Carney's steady hand is often cited as critical to that outcome.

A 'calming voice'

"He was the calming voice, the authority, the leader. He played a very important leadership role in calming markets and letting them know in no uncertain terms the situation was under control and that Canada was well-poised, our financial institutions were in excellent condition and our credit markets were healthy," said Gagnon.

While the praise for Carney is high, it is not absolute. Some, such as International Trade Union Federation chief economist Erin Weir, say Carney initially moved too slowly to cut interest rates.

"The Bank of Canada didn't get its target rate down to zero until April 2009, which is about six months after the financial crisis started," Weir told CBC News. "The bank lagged behind the American Federal Reserve, for example."

Weir says more could have also been done to slow the loonie's rise.

When asked about the speculation swirling around the IMF post, Carney appeared not to rule out his candidacy. In the end, the IMF post went to French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

Last October, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he had taken steps to promote Carney as the next head of the FSB, which is responsible for crafting new global banking regulations.

With files from The Canadian Press