Nixon, Gordon M. 1957–
Gordon M. Nixon
President and CEO, Royal Bank of Canada
Education: Queen's University, Bachelor of Commerce, 1979.
Family: Son of Melbourne Nixon and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown); married Janet (maiden name unknown); children: three.
Career: Dominion Securities, 1979–1986, Fixed Income and Corporate and Government Finance; RBC Dominion Securities, 1986–1989, Global Markets and Investment Banking (Tokyo); 1989–1995, managing director of Investment Banking; 1995–1998, head of Global Investment Banking; 1998–2001, head of Global Banking Division; Royal Bank of Canada, 2001–, president and CEO.
Awards: Innovator of the Year, American Banker, 2001.
■ At age 44 Gordon M. Nixon became the youngest-ever chief executive of a major Canadian financial institution when in August 2001 Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) named him as CEO. In 2002 RBC was in fact Canada's largest financial institution, with 12 million customers worldwide, C$413 billion in assets and a market capitalization in excess of C$41 billion. With Nixon at the helm RBC aggressively pursued a U.S. expansion plan; between 2001 and 2003 the bank announced 10 acquisitions in the United States, including the purchases of Centura Bank, Liberty Life Insurance Company, and the Dain Rauscher brokerage firm. The C$5.3 billion spending spree saw RBC's U.S. brokerage business outstrip its Canadian operations by a third and reinforced Nixon's reputation as a dealmaker, a tough competitor, and the man widely expected to be at the forefront of the bank merger push in Canada.
The descendant of an affluent Montreal family (his grandfather was a director at RBC), Nixon paid his way through university by tending bar during the school year and pushing paper during the summer at a Montreal investment firm. An average student, Nixon distinguished himself on the rugby pitch where he made first team and played on the varsity side for each of his four years at Queen's. Gavin Reid, a former coach and Queen's professor, remembered Nixon as a prize player: "fast and a very good tackler and a good team man" (Kingston Whig-Standard, July 28, 2001).
Such terms were also used to describe Nixon's leadership style at RBC. Nixon acknowledged that the team-player mentality fostered on the rugby field served him well: "I personally believe, particularly in the financial services sector, that your most important aspects ride the elevator with you each day; that you are as good as the people who work with and for you" (Kingston Whig-Standard, July 28, 2001). Teammates and competitors alike described Nixon as a skilled communicator, outgoing, patient, and a good listener—an affable team player genuinely interested in the people around him. He also evidenced a sense of humor. During an interview following his promotion to RBC's top job, Nixon was asked how he spent his spare time at university. Noting that he "hung out" at two of Kingston, Ontario's more notorious watering holes, Nixon was quick to add, "for the interview, you have to throw in the Queen's library as well" (Kingston Whig-Standard, July 28, 2001).
Under Nixon's leadership RBC's quest for North American expansion accelerated. An ardent believer in the irreversibility of globalization, Nixon looked to markets outside Canada, specifically in the United States, for growth. Like any good rugby player, Nixon could spot an opening and saw the U.S. market for what it was: the largest global economy and a geographically contiguous region with a banking sector offering good potential for growth. When asked about RBC's particular expansion strategies, Nixon said, "We know we have to grow outside Canada if we're going to flourish as a global or even Canadian financial services company" (The Globe & Mail, February 22, 2002). The "platform extension" plan adopted by Nixon meant that RBC's foray into the U.S. market would be "measured" and would serve to establish a beachhead for future growth. Acquisitions were focused, at least initially, on U.S. banks with strong retail, personal, and commercial operations—traditional areas of strength and expertise for RBC in Canada.
RBC's strategy was not an unqualified success. While the U.S. acquisitions increased its international revenues, the costs associated with the acquisitions along with the relatively weak profitability of the American banks undermined RBC's overall performance and share price. Shareholders who had seen stock values move from C$15 to C$51 under Nixon's predecessor were not pleased with the lackluster returns. Growing pains were short-lived, however, and in 2003 RBC became the first bank in Canadian history to earn more than C$3 billion in a single year.
Nixon served as a director of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and co-chaired that council's committee on national policy. He was chairman of the United Way of Greater Toronto and a director of the North York General Hospital.
See also entry on The Royal Bank of Canada in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Armstrong, Frank, "Average Queen's Grad Rises to Banking Pinnacle," Kingston Whig-Standard, July 28, 2001.
Kalawsky, Keith, and Derek Decloet, "Royal to Cut Staff, Sell Assets," National Post, October 23, 2001.
Nixon, Gordon, "We Can't Sit Back and Allow All of Our Industries to Become Globally Insignificant," The Globe & Mail, July 3, 2001.
"Royal Bank CEO Wins 'Innovator' Award," The Globe & Mail, December 10, 2001.
Yakabuski, Konrad, "Merger Ambitions Thwarted: Royal Bank Has Quickly Sewn Up a Little American Empire," The Globe & Mail, February 22, 2002.
—Timothy J. Wowk