The busiest man in Toronto: five things we learned from Robert Prichard

The busiest man in Toronto: five things we learned from Robert Prichard

Robert Prichard addresses the Ontario Economic Summit last November (Image: Ontario Chamber of Commerce) 

If you’ve lived in Toronto over the past decade, Robert Prichard has touched your life. The man has been active throughout the city, sitting on several corporate boards, as well as holding such titles as president of U of T, dean of the faculty of law, chair of Metrolinx, president of Star Media Group and trustee of the Ontario Innovation Trust. Recently, he’s returned to law as the chairman of tony Bay Street law firm Torys and the chair of Penguin’s Canadian arm. Canadian Business caught up with Prichard to ask about politics, the digital age and being tone deaf. Here, five nuggets we gleaned from the busiest man in Toronto.

If you wait 36 years, you can get the big chair without doing a day’s work
Prichard was ready to work for Torys right out of law school in 1974 but instead went into teaching. In 2010, Torys made him chairman. That’s how good this guy is: he can climb the ladder at a law firm without even being there. How does it feel? “Terrific. I didn’t have to article.”

He wins some, he loses some
Under Prichard’s watch, Torstar lost money from its bet on CTV and was blindsided by the rise of the Internet. At the University of Toronto, Prichard raised a record amount of cash ($1.4 billion) for the school’s endowment. After a certain point, when all the numbers end in “-illions,” it’s hard to keep track, but we’re pretty sure he came out ahead.

Canadians have become nastier over the years
Prichard says the lawyer joke he heard most in law school was the oldie “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you.” We’ve never heard that one as a lawyer joke. Maybe that means your average Canadian is as mean and cynical today as lawyers were in the ’70s. Or maybe lawyers have become gentler.

He’s strikingly non-partisan
A lot of people say they’re non-partisan, especially lawyerly Upper Canada College grads, but in this case it’s pretty true: Prichard has worked for Conservative, Liberal and NDP governments in Ontario.

He could be played by Brad Pitt in a sequel to Seven Years in Tibet
OK, maybe not, but Prichard was deeply influenced by the book Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer, going so far as to get on a plane with a one-way ticket to what he Fordishly charmingly calls “the Orient.”

• Interview: Prichard the Third [CB Online]