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Mark Carney: Canada's Smoothest Operator

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Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, probably has the best personal brand of anyone in Canada right now. That is no small feat for a central banker (think grey and boring), an ex-Goldman Sachs managing director (think hundreds of millions in SEC fines) and an economist (think profession that can't predict their way out of a paper bag). How did he do that? And what is his brand?

First, Mark Carney has a strong brand as a competent and trustworthy central banker. Is he actually good at his job? I don't know (we all thought Alan Greenspan was a great central banker), but the rest of the world seems to think so. His second job is Chairman of the (international) Financial Stability Board, and the Bank of England apparently wants to hire him as their new governor.

As Canadians, we are known for recognizing greatness only when people make it on the world stage. So the global recognition helps a lot.

But that recognition would not be enough to give him the celebrity status he enjoys in Canada today. Mark Carney has created a spotlight for himself by taking some risks. He expressed sympathy with the frustrations that gave rise to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He spoke to the CAW convention, where he annoyed Canada's corporate elite by telling them to stop hoarding their cash. He apologized for the Bank's process of selecting images for our bank notes.

All of this could have blown up in his face. Associating himself with the Occupy activists could have damaged his reputation for being a steady, conservative banker. The CAW could have heckled and booed him (instead they gave him a standing ovation). The business community could turn on him (but they won't).

Wading into the controversy over changing the features of an Asian women on the $100 bank note is a minefield that he didn't have to enter -- no one seriously thinks Mark Carney gets involved in designing bank notes. But he managed to find what the Globe and Mail called "the right tone."

I think he managed that by focussing on some key principles about personal branding. First, he sounds authentic. What you are getting are his views, not something scripted by "handlers." He balances this with the second principle -- he doesn't lose focus on his key message. As our central banker his priority has to be the long term health of the Canadian economy and he makes sure we trust him to do that by reminding us of this whenever he speaks.

Third, he appears to be willing to listen -- and to respect the positions of others even if he doesn't agree. Finally, he is seen as courageous for speaking forthrightly and taking the risks I outlined above. Authentic, trustworthy, respectful and courageous make a pretty good brand.

Canada has seen this brand before in Sheila Fraser, the former Auditor General. Both she and Mark Carney held positions that are not directly under the thumb of the government. By choosing people who are respected professionals and who have the ability and courage to speak their minds clearly and directly, Canada has benefitted. This is a lesson our prime minister should keep in mind when he faces the temptation to muzzle the civil service.