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Self made man generated a self starter

A prairie boy fresh out of high school, Allen Taylor started working at the Royal Bank of Canada as a junior clerk.

A prairie boy fresh out of high school, Allen Taylor started working at the Royal Bank of Canada as a junior clerk.

Thirty-seven years later, he became its chairman and CEO.

“It was ’49, four years after the war, and everything was booming, everything was growing,” said Taylor from his winter home in Arizona.

“You had the feeling the world was your oyster, you could do anything — and some of us did.”

Taylor’s sister was dating the local Royal Bank’s assistant manager.

He would come for dinner on Sunday nights, said Taylor.

Not sure of what he wanted to study in university, Taylor took the junior clerk job when he was 16.

“I would have had to go to Saskatoon for university and I considered taking commerce, but I wasn’t sure,” he said.

“Back then it was a competitive thing too, there were an awful lot of young people in the bank.

“And most learning and mentoring took place on the job — it’s not like that anymore.”

Now banks will only hire applicants with university degrees, he said.

But some of the most important education happens on the job — learning by doing.

“There is nothing like practical experience.”

As junior clerk, Taylor changed pen nibs, sorted mail and filled inkwells.

Several months later, he was promoted to ledger keeper.

“Back then it was all handwritten; nothing was automized,” he said.

Ten months later, he moved away from home to work as a teller in another branch.

“Every time I moved, I had a promotion,” he said.

Taylor became a utility clerk, an accountant and a junior inspector on the road.

He worked in the credit department in Toronto, then moved to New York as the assistant agent for four years.

“I was thrown into the deep end, if you will,” he said.

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”

After several more promotions, that shuffled Taylor between Toronto and Montreal, he became the Royal Bank’s chairman and CEO in 1986.

Eight years later, he received the Order of Canada and this May he will be inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.

But Taylor didn’t do all this alone.

“I had terrific support from my wife,” he said.

They met at the bank in the early ‘50s; Shirley Taylor was a secretary to the assistant manager at the time.

Taylor has a son, a daughter and three granddaughters.

“One of the major reasons my dad is getting the particular award that he is getting, it’s not just a reflection of the fact that he’s respected as a businessman and all those kinds of accolades, it has a lot to do with his leadership in terms of bringing Canada into the 21st century of philanthropy,” said his son Rod Taylor, owner of the Yukon expedition company Uncommon Journeys.

“(My dad) was one of the founders of the Imagine Campaign, which got the majority of the major corporations in Canada to take one per cent of their pre-tax earnings and give it towards charity.

“And today that is a norm in North America — he was the guy that set that up.

“It’s incredibly corny to say, but he’s an example that nice guys can finish first. And his message to my sister and me was always, a country, a company and a community shouldn’t be judged on just how successful their economies are, it should be what do they do for their people and how do they give back.

“That’s always been the biggest message to us — how do you give back.”

Uncommon Journeys has finally reached the place where it’s stable — “in the black.”

So Rod is now looking at how he, like his father, can give back to the community.

“There are great opportunities here to do that,” he said.

Plans to take troubled youth dog sledding are in the works.

“It is unbelievable how these kids connect with the dogs — it’s incredibly therapeutic,” he said.

Uncommon Journeys currently offers extended dog-sledding trips to remote locations, including Herschel Island and the Tombstone Mountains.

“Our business really caters to a relatively high-end market and we get important players, who come on these trips all the time,” said Rod.

“And the fact is, by having them up here and giving them an opportunity to see our wilderness and how much it means to us to keep it pristine, while still being able to develop it, those are the types of people who go back and end up in congress voting on things like ANWR — they’re the movers and shakers.”

Rod, who was recently elected president of the Tourism Industry Association Yukon, argues the greatest issue facing the Yukon is having a sustainable economy.

“We can’t always be hooked into the boom and bust cycles of commodities, and it’s my belief that tourism, although it doesn’t share the respect that the mining industry does, should be an industry leader in getting other industries together to realize that we can have a vibrant stable economy,” he said.

“So we aren’t always worrying about what is happening somewhere else in the world in terms of commodity prices and is it worth it to extract this resource and blah, blah, blah.

“There is a whole issue of governance in the Yukon and issues of partisan politics and how that completely screws things up here, to be perfectly frank,” he said.

“And I think, in a jurisdiction as small as the Yukon, there are tremendous opportunities to do things differently.”

A little place like the Yukon could become a leader and an inspiration to larger jurisdictions in Canada, said Rod.

“And I think it’s young people — it’s the next generation that is going to bring that to the forefront in the Yukon, and I hope to be part of that.

“The older generation tends to support the status quo because it has worked for them for so long, but the truth is that ain’t good enough.

“You hear young people all the time talking about how they lament the fact there just aren’t enough heroes or mentors in the world, and I was lucky I had one living with me,” said Rod.

“(My dad) is definitely an inspiration, he has always been my hero.”

“Rod always had a great interest in the outdoors and, although we encouraged him to go to university, we gave him full freedom,” said Allen.

“He would have taken (his freedom) anyway,” he added.

But Rod spent some time in the Toronto business world of his father, before moving North.

Once vice-president of operations and the de facto chief operating officer of a health-care company downtown Toronto, Rod now bemoans the fact he had to shave everyday and wear suits.

“I was becoming an axe-murderer and it was time to move,” he said.

With advice from a couple of friends, he flew to the Yukon “on a wing and a prayer.

“I thought the sound of the town called Champagne sounded lovely, and that was about all I knew.”

He was only here five days and on the last day a real-estate agent brought him out to look at the Ibex Valley property where he currently lives.

“I knew I wanted to start some kind of adventure tourism business and I thought this really was the mecca for this type of thing, which has proved to be correct,” he said.

“Now the Yukon has captured my heart and soul and, when I leave here, they’ll take me out in a box.”

Allen visits Rod several times a year to hunt, fish and run dogs.

“Despite the fact that my father referred to the day that I made the decision (to move North) as the day of madness, he now realizes it is the best thing I ever did and he absolutely loves coming to the Yukon,” said Rod.