The two summa cum laude graduates of my law school class of 1976 at the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, of the University of Ottawa are John Manley and J-P. (Jean-Paul) Bisnaire. They are the gold and silver medalists, respectively. I am down there somewhere, as a magna cum laude graduate. John Manley later became well known in the world of politics, as Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister, among other roles, in the Jean Chrétien government, and also in Opposition. John was elected to the House of Commons in 1988, when the Liberals were in Opposition, and served until the Paul Martin transition, leaving politics, at least for now, in 2004. As of 2010, he is the Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.
J-P. became equally well known in the legal circles, becoming one of the most respected corporate lawyers in Canada, particularly in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, prior to joining Manulife Financial as Senior Executive Vice-President and General Counsel in 2004. He was formerly a senior partner at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg. He became a partner in one of its predecessor firms, Davies Ward & Beck, in 1980, just two years after his call to the Ontario Bar. My recollection is that he was one of the youngest persons ever to be admitted to partnership at that firm.
Irrespective of how you define it, John Manley and J-P Bisnaire are the most successful graduates of the Common Law Class of 1976 at the University of Ottawa. What makes for such success? Is it predictable? Did both of them set out with clear career goals?
I sometimes attend convocations at the University of Ottawa, since students always seem pleased to introduce one of their professors, even if part-time, to their parents. At one convocation I attended, Ken Dryden was awarded an honorary doctorate. I couldn’t find his convocation speech on his website. I hope it is published somewhere, since the theme that he developed in it was that of the unpredictable nature of how a career develops. He had no idea that his career would include such elements as being a Stanley Cup goalie with the Montreal Canadiens to being a lawyer and advisor to governments, followed by election to the House of Commons. His message was to be appreciative of opportunities and, in essence, to be grateful for the successes that one is able to make of such opportunties, which are, in many respects, unpredictable.
My memories of John Manley and J-P Bisnaire are of two basically quiet, highly intelligent law students, both of whom possessed social skills that I did not. I spent most of my time in the law library, petrified that I would somehow miss learning ALL THE LAW in three years. Such fear that, while John and J-P were developing social skills, I was running around auditing as many courses as I could in third year, apart from taking regular courses for credit, in case I ended up missing learning ALL THE LAW. Went over the edge, by way of starting to write exams in courses that I was auditing. Third year relationship that was hobbling at that point flamed out rather quickly. “It was always about YOU,” she said, a few years later, in a particularly bitter letter. We kept in touch, and are still in touch. Unforgiven, always.
In addition to being quiet and possessing social skills, both John and J-P distinguished themselves by being open and egalitarian. Both treated everyone with respect. This is often said about many, but is often also an exaggeration. It is not an exaggeration here. Neither was a gossip or prone to small talk. Neither made enemies, despite an educational environment that at times could become highly pressured and competitive.
I remember eating lunch one day with John. I asked about his background. He mentioned that he had been an Employment Insurance officer for a year or two before entering law school. Gave him a lens through which he saw social justice issues. Mentioned quietly that he attended weekly meetings with a group of Christian students on campus. Statement of quiet fact, and no more. This was long before one had religious-based student organizations, faculty by faculty. Mentioning this without explicitly encouraging me to attend. Instead, without words, saying this is part of who I am. I had to ask to attend, and was encouraged without words to do so. I didn’t ask, at that time.
J-P was not one to put his hand up regularly in class. He would sit and listen carefully to the professor. We had an alleged advanced commercial law course, where the professor was talking and talking about holding companies and how the assets would flow from one to the other. J-P slowly put up his hand. “I thought holding companies held shares, not assets,” he said. The professor was, quite rightly, speechless. J-P was later invited to teach advanced commercial law at the University of Ottawa, and flew in weekly from Toronto to do so.
I haven’t encountered too many studies of leadership that look at successful graduates in a particular class and then track the factors identified as being associated with such success. I don’t know how predictable the success of John and J-P might have been, though in retrospect, there must have been predictors. What I do know is that I can see J-P as a former Deputy Prime Minister and John as one of the most respected commercial lawyers in Canada. There’s something about both that enables their roles to be completely reversed, in my view, where greatness transcends occupation.
Postscript, September 30, 2011: On September 17, 2011, I had the privilege of attending a gala homecoming dinner of the Common Law Section of the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, at which Jean-Paul Bisnaire was admitted to the Honour Society of the law school, joining his class contemporaries John Manley and Shirley Greenberg, and also Alan Rock, Chancellor of The University, in such prestigious membership. Alan Rock was in attendance; quite a moment to see one of the most distinguished graduates from his year personally congratulate one of the most distinguished graduates from our year. I hadn’t spoken with J-P since articling in Toronto in 1977, but it was as if no time had passed. There is something about a significant common life experience, such as war or, in this case, law school, that seems to transcend time, through defining who you are. You are still connected, immediately, be it days or decades ago. Very rare and very nice feeling. Soldiers of whatever life fortune.
Postscript, December 23, 2011: Am on the mailing list for announcements from the Prime Minister’s Office. A week or so ago, received an announcement that Paul S. Crampton had been appointed Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada. Went to the biography that accompanied announcement. The same Paul Crampton whom I had taught financial accounting in the M.B.A. program at the Faculty of Administration at the University of Ottawa, in 1985. Then found out he was recognized as an “Alumni Leader” at the Telfer School of Managment, as the Faculty of Administration is now known. Where I continue to teach, as a part-time instructor, since 1999 and, since 2003, exclusively at the undergraduate level. From the two biographies, the profile is of someone who has concentrated on being the absolute best, nationally and internationally, in the area of competition law. Was particularly interested in the fact that he had chosen to complete an LL.M. at the University of Toronto, generally considered to be the leading law school in Canada, following his LL.B. and M.B.A. studies at the University of Ottawa, prior to articing and being called to the Bar of Ontario. Then went to work at the Competition Bureau in Ottawa, while co-ordinating the courses in Competition Law at the University of Ottawa law school. Always seeming to want to maximize the opportunities available. In terms of a focused concentration, his career has similar elements to that of J-P Bisnaire, who came to be recognized as one of the leading lawyers in the world, in relation to mergers and acquisitions. It is different from that of John Manley, whose legal career was more as a sophisticated business law generalist, but where such high level business generalism served him well in his political and later roles.
In terms of Paul, I remember a very self-assured student, though I had little impression at the time as to how directed his focus was. Did he seem “different from the rest”, in terms of his other fellow law students who were also contemporaneously studying for the M.B.A. degree? Compared to the other M.B.A. students in class, the majority of whom were not also contemporaneously studying law? In a way. I recall that his exam answers were quite good, though I have hoarded the academic records for virtually every class I have ever taught during nearly thirty years now, so maybe should go back. Am I surprised that he is where he is now? No. He didn’t have the same quiet, modest self-assuredness of John Manley or J-P Bisnaire; his “somebody” element was more demonstrative. He nonetheless had it, as the person who is likely the most successful member of his particular cohort.