A Little More about David Pecaut – Part 2

June 4, 2008

Things with the woman David Pecaut had come to Toronto for never really worked out. But he didn’t leave. Things were starting to go well, and Pecaut was falling on love with his new city.

After four years at Canada Consulting, Pecaut got a call from Ira Magaziner. They had worked together on a Ottawa task force. Ira told David that he was starting a new consulting group, Telesis. 75% of business would be large corporations and 25% would be government economic strategy.

“I had become really interested in economic strategy over the past four years…Ira was very close to the Democratic leadership in the United States, and I had always been very intrigued by questions of government policy. So, when he said he needed someone to come to Rhode Island to run the business with him while it expanded into Europe and Asia, I jumped at the chance.

I loved Toronto. But I felt like it had never been my plan to stay. I was at a juncture in my life where I could go. I felt it was a fantastic opportunity.”

So he went to Rhode Island and during his three years with Magaziner, Pecaut got to work with RCA, General Electric, and Jack Welsh. Plus, he got to develop a 20 year high tech economic strategy for the Israeli government.

“It was 1985,” Pecaut recalls, “and the Jerusalem Institute of Management sponsored a program that brought both parties – Likud and Labour – together. Simon Peres and Ariel Sharon were both on the steering committee. It was a time of peace and, for roughly a year, I led the group as it developed an economic strategy that focussed on developing technology and scientific research sites in the surrounding areas. I was the only one in the room who wasn’t Jewish, so I learned an immense amount.”

Ultimately though, Pecaut found himself missing Toronto. One day, he got a call from Premier David Peterson’s Minister of Industry. Peterson’s Liberals had never expected to be elected, so they didn’t have a fully developed economic plan. They were looking for Pecaut’s expertise. The drew up a model for a Premier’s council, which would consist of leaders of industry, the universities, and labour, along with Peterson and his four key economic advisors. The party loved the idea and handed the job to Pecaut’s old firm: Canada Consulting. As a result, Pecaut came back to Toronto.

With Magaziner preparing to devote himself more dominantly to Washington politics, Pecaut didn’t want to run Telesis by himself. Ultimately, the company was sold to Towers Perrin Inc., which turned it into a global strategy business. Later, Pecaut would buy some of the business back and run it as a boutique operation.

In 1992, the Boston Consulting Group approached approached Pecaut, saying they were looking to buy a Canadian business. They were familiar with him threw several of their partners. Pecaut jumped at the chance.

“I knew that I would only work at a place where I could have some fun,” Pecaut says. “And I knew that BCG would be a leader. Even though it was a little ahead of my timetable, I knew we should expand.”

With that, they merged the two businesses and Pecaut ran BCG in Toronto for a decade. Their E-Commerce work in the late 1990s made it into a $250-300 million business.

“Through it all, I’ve always remained committed to public policy and the engagement of civil society,” Pecaut explained at the end of our interview. “It’s always been there. We’ve stayed committed to ensuring it represents roughly 15-20% of our work. In the 1990s, we decided we could do one or two major pro bono policy projects a year, and it’s worked out well.”

And does he ever regret taking philosophy and sociology rather than economics and business management?

“I remember during the first months at Canada consulting, someone came to me and said, “You gotta calculate the cash flow on this,” and I said, “Okay, sure.” But I didn’t have a clue, and these were the days before calculators. So I went over to the guy next to me, and he was like, “you don’t know how to do that?” And I had to say, “no.” And he was like, “you really don’t know how to do that?” And all I could say was, “I’m sure I can learn.” So he gave me a textbook and I learned.

My feeling was that everything in consulting was stuff you could learn in a few hours. For me, and I don’t want to be critical or anything, going to get a business degree felt a little more like going to get a degree in plumbing. It’s stuff you know you can learn if you sit there and learn it. But it’s not like you couldn’t learn any given thing in a few hours if you needed to. It wasn’t like going and becoming a doctor, where you had to spend three or four years in a clinic and apprentice and practice. It seemed to me that you learned by doing.”

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