In Corporate Catalyst, Tony Griffiths gives readers a ringside seat on the many boardroom and corporate battles that he both fought and witnessed through the nearly six decades of his productive and colorful career. Among other stories, Griffiths replays his two stints as the CEO of Canada's darling of the telecom industry, Mitel Corporation. The first was in the late 1980s, a time when he helped staunch the flow of red ink and returned the company to profitability. The second was in the early 1990s, when he steered the company through its majority ownership by British Telecom and then its sale to Schroder Ventures. As Griffiths relates it, he had to learn how to deal with the bureaucratic style of the former and the power-hungry moves of the latter.
Corporate Catalyst includes the author's blow-by-blow account of what went on inside Confederation Life in the 1980s and early 1990s—a story that should have prevented the failure of the likes of Lehman Brothers in the recent Great Recession. Griffiths, who had his hands full at the time with challenges at Mitel, also sat on Confed's board. He tried to warn Confederation Life's executives and his fellow board members of the financial dangers the company was facing. No one but a few other board members would listen-and even they did not do so consistently. The fall of Confed Life became one of the largest failures of a major finance company in corporate history.
Griffiths takes the reader on a dramatic tour of the trickery, betrayal, and politicking that the world of business seems to attract. He introduces readers to the biggest and boldest names in Canadian business, including Jake Moore of Brascan, Robert Campeau of Campeau Corporation, Terry Mathews of Mitel, Ted Rogers of Rogers Communications, Conrad Black of Hollinger, Adam Zimmerman of Noranda, Pat Burns of Confederation Life, and Christopher Ondaatje of The Ondaatje Corporation.
In the book's many cautionary tales, Griffiths warns against mixing the roles of governance and management and shows the marked tendency of executives to take up residence far from reality when times get tough. "We don't listen. We don't plan. We don't act," he wrote in frustration to the board and management of Confederation Life after months of trying to get someone to address the financial mess they were in.
Full of hard-won wisdom, Corporate Catalyst is a must-read for anyone working in business or interested in what the business world is really like.
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