On McKenna and staying the course

Interesting article in the Globe & Mail today about Frank McKenna and his role as rainmaker for TD Bank. Here’s the first part of that article:

The thing about Frank McKenna stories is that they inevitably veer toward the same punchline. Like the time, in the mid-1990s, that a secretary entered her boss’s office with a stack of letters. The executive had decided to consolidate his company’s call centres in a single location, eliciting a predictable flood of entreaties from the provinces. Yet only nine expressions of interest had arrived in the mail.

“Who’s the tenth who didn’t send one?” he asked.

“Frank McKenna,” the secretary replied. “He’s waiting outside.”

Now, there are three points I have this morning about Frank McKenna and this specific article:

1. I worked on that file. That was the company who’s VP said he slept with the proposal/business case (that I had written making the case for New Brunswick) under his pillow.

2. I have heard a few extraordinary tales like this in the economic development realm. Premiers/Governors just showing up to meet a key prospect. When it comes to working potential leads for attracting industry to New Brunswick, I think sometimes these extra steps are necessary to get in the door. Showing up like Frank did doesn’t guarantee anything but it does indicate your commitment to the company.

3. Why didn’t Frank’s attitude prevail after he left? Why didn’t he take the time to inculcate these values into his Cabinet, into the department and indeed across the province? The best leaders are the ones that embed their vision throughout the organization (In this case the province). A year after Frank left office, that drive and spirit around economic development was gone. This was his greatest failure, in my humble opinion. When Jesus died he had his 12 disciples who kept on his work. And they created hundreds of teachers and so on (like the shampoo commercial). I would have thought that Bernard Lord would have taken up Frank’s mantle in the economic development area. The best politicians are those that cream skim the best ideas from their competition. The fact that Lord ignored rejected Frank’s approach and ignored economic development for seven years is again a testiment to how ephemeral Frank’s legacy was in this area.

So the lesson for Shawn Graham is very simple.

He has a ’20+ year plan’.

He will last, at most 10-12 years.

A key part of his strategy must be to build a legacy that lasts well beyond his 2 or so terms.

That, of course, assumes that his plan will actually put NB on the road to economic health and self-sufficiency.

The fact that Bernard Lord didn’t ‘borrow’ and build on the one thing that Frank was known throughout Canada – his passion for attracting industry – is something I will never understand.

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0 Responses to On McKenna and staying the course

  1. Anonymous says:

    You’re forgetting the press version of those events. It doesn’t take actually DOING those things to get things like that press story to note the behaviour as an anecdote-it takes lots of PR, which Frank had.

    Go look at Lord, same thing, most of his time was spent on the road. The mistake he made was being conservative, that is, not pissing away thousands on PR hacks to follow you around and comment on what a genius and hard worker you are.

    That’s the ‘press version’ of reality, sort of like the “I know a guy who knows a guy and those irvings eat at McDonalds the same as everybody else”. Everywhere you go you hear those stories, thats the power of media.

    IF those things you say were true, then we wouldn’t have the comments from McKenna like we did, where he basically says Lord is ‘doing fine, everything is coming up roses’. The reality is that, like Irving, Mckenna’s PR has him grown into some kind of symbol of yesteryear, back in the days where people actually heard of NB.

    And I think in a blog about economic development we can pick better analogies than Jesus, especially at this time of year. The Lord isn’t running the province anymore!

  2. David Campbell says:

    Couple of rebuttals. First, Lord’s team was even better than McKenna at spinning ‘how great things were’. For the first 5-6 years of his mandate you could hardly read a story in the newspaper about out-migration and other serious economic challenges. It would seem he was not quite as good at spinning his own image as Frank’s team was. But part of that is tied to real activity. To say that Lord spent all his time on the road is laughable. By the time Frank McKenna had left office in 1997, he had met with just about every CEO of any major corporation in the county. He had a suite reserved for him at the Royal York. You can agree or disagree with this but it happened. Lord on the other hand, made a few speeches before business groups but hardly anything more. I would be curious to see how many one on one meetings Lord had with potential investors on their turf. I might be completely wrong on this but if he actually went out selling New Brunswick to specific companies more than a couple times a year I would be surprised. If he did, it didn’t yield results.

    As for the Jesus reference, name me one other leader than turned such a simple and powerful ideology into a worldwide two millenia movement? He was clear, concise, always on message and had 12 disciples who would die for the message (11 did).

    That’s a bit dramatic for a provincial leader but when a visionary leader with a solid program leaves office, his legacy should remain in the halls of government for years. I just don’t see that it happened with Frank.

  3. MonctonLandlord says:

    Some would say McKenna is way more popular these days than when he was Premier.

    Today, he would be an excellent Chairman (or in political sense: Premier/Prime Minister). Back then, he was a doer, McKenna should have been a CEO (or a Deputy Minister).

    How many doers, or Deputy Ministers do we have in place? Guess what, not too many come to mind…

    I hope economic development doesn’t get cut-back to face the next 5 years trying to balance the budget again… I am certain, the numbers are in, and the crew is working overtime trying to pitch to the public “How bad Lord left the finances of the Province”. I can already read the captions of the Globe & Mail: “NB in uphill battle to balance the books by 2008”.

    What a sad picture, this may be the only picture making the national scene since Graham took the oath.

    Golden road to 2025 will only be a wish with a Premier’s tooth neatly tucked under a pillow. (from the right jab by the national media)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Irving is not government PR, its a private company with its own interests in mind. Just because Irving spins the ‘wonderful news’ of government press releases doesn’t mean its PR. Those are two separate issues. Frank had a huge PR staff that was sending out press releases daily both here and abroad. Lord didn’t.

    And compare apples with apples, McKenna had huge benefits, namely coinciding with a federal liberal party. As everybody should know the federal and provincial liberals are technically the same party. Then enabled McKenna to get massive funds from the feds, to the tune of being the only Premier in the history of the country to manage to get a federal aid program completely paid for by the feds with no partnership funds necessary.

    NBTel also got massive funding from the feds, unfortunately, that began to come apart right at the end of the liberal reign. That was virtually the ONLY thing going for the province, the technology push which they just couldn’t hold onto.

    Looking at the numbers now the economic statistics for the province were only marginally better than under Hatfield, meanwhile standards of living continued to fall. They were only propped up by NB Works, the aforementioned federal aid program.

    And of course for popularity, we only have a tiny minority of people posting here, but we can note that even with a divided conservative party with no federal arm, the liberals only toted in 51% of the vote, that’s only 4% more than this election, and only 5% more than Lord got in this election.

    His first election was of course a fluke and not due to policy, most of his success came from 91 to 94 where he still only manages to increase 4% in popular support. And again those were the years when federal money was paying for programs and his PR was working non stop.

    So for popularity except among a very select ideology McKenna doesn’t enjoy any more popularity than Lord, or certainly not much.

    As for work, as you say, you don’t KNOW how many CEO’s he visited so your assumptions are based on the fact that because few companies located here, he couldn’t have worked very hard. However, its one thing to get a company here, its another thing to KEEP them here.

    So again, we simply DON”T KNOW whether that hypothesis is correct or not. Put up a list of the companies Frank visited and email the conservative party to see what ones they visited.

    And for the christmas remarks, I can think of no WORSE example, as their has never been a leader whose message was more distorted by their followers than jesus. In fact they turned into the very thing that he despised leading to that famous quote “the last christian died on the cross”.