Rick Waugh was born in 1947 in Winnipeg, in the Canadian province of Manitoba. He lived in a small house with his parents, younger brother, an aunt, and grandparents. “Both my grandparents were ill,” he recalls, “and my grandfather actually slept in the dining room and my grandmother in an enclosed porch. We all shared rooms, and even though it was crowded, it was comfortable.”
Waugh’s home was located in a multiethnic, working class neighborhood. His father, who never finished high school, was a fireman but supported the extended family by also working as a house painter and stonemason.
“From my perspective, he was the perfect father,” says Waugh. “He died at the relatively early age of 54, and it still brings tears to my eyes whenever I think of him. He was easygoing and had a great sense of humor. Everyone who met him liked him. When he came back from serving in World War II, he had the choice of becoming a fireman or a policeman. He once told me the reason he chose the fire department over the police department was so that he would never have to write a ticket for a friend. That’s the kind of man he was.”
Waugh describes his mother as the family caregiver. She took care of Waugh’s ailing grandparents, and when Waugh became seriously ill at the age of 12, she took charge. “My doctor wanted to send me away for treatment, but my mother was determined to keep me home,” he says. “I had to be in bed for about nine months, and she arranged for a retired teacher to keep me current in my studies. After I recovered, I passed all my school exams.”
From his parents, Waugh learned important values. They instilled in him a strong work ethic and taught him to always do his best at whatever he attempted. Commitment and integrity were also stressed in his home. As a child, he did not spend a lot of time contemplating his future. “I was more focused on the present,” he says. “I tried every activity that came along. I wanted to be active and do as much as I could. I felt that if I did well in the activities I chose at the time, then the future would take care of itself.”
Waugh enjoyed both the social and academic sides of school. He was committed to sports and was active in student government—often serving as class president and president of the student council. He also dabbled in drama. “I was never in a rush to leave school at the end of the day,” he recalls. “There was always something to do. School was a very positive outlet in my life. I attended an enriched program and benefited from excellent teachers. One teacher in grammar school had a doctorate, and one in high school was a Rhodes scholar. I am the product of an excellent Canadian school system.”
From the time Waugh was a child, his parents assumed he would go to college. To save money, he lived at home while attending the local University of Manitoba. His part-time jobs included delivering papers and working in the public library, a retail department store, and a glass factory. He also worked in security at football games and other big events. During his college years, he worked each summer in Alberta’s oil industry, which paid well enough to cover his books and tuition.
Waugh majored in business and earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce with honors in 1970. After graduation, he had several job offers, some in the oil industry—but it was an offer from Scotiabank that caught his attention. Even though the starting salary—$7,400 a year—was lower than the other jobs, he was one of only three college graduates to be offered a position with the bank that year, and he readily accepted.
Starting at the bottom of the banking industry, Waugh became as a branch teller in Winnipeg. Three months later, he was offered a promotion, but to accept it, he would have to move to Toronto. “I didn’t want to leave Winnipeg, but I was only 21 and felt I shouldn’t pass up this opportunity,” he says. “It was one of the more significant decisions of my life. I got out of my comfort zone, and it worked out very well for me.”
Waugh’s Toronto position put him in the investment area of banking. While there, he took advantage of Scotiabank’s education benefits and returned to night school to earn his MBA at York University while working full time. Eight years after Waugh joined Scotiabank, the president asked him to manage Toronto’s largest branch, which had 500 employees. He was only 30 and had 15 assistant managers reporting to him—most of whom were older than he was.
The next big opportunity came in 1985 when Waugh was offered the most senior Scotiabank executive position in the United States. He served in New York for eight years and, during that time, established the bank as a major lender to Fortune 500 firms. Eventually called back to Toronto to head Scotiabank’s global corporate banking operations, he accepted the offer but felt torn about leaving the United States. “My wife and I and our children loved America and living in New York,” he says. “It was a difficult decision to return to Toronto, but ultimately it was the right choice.”
Next, Waugh became the vice chairman of the international division. “It was a fantastic opportunity, because Scotiabank is in more than 50 countries—mostly in small, emerging markets,” he says. “It’s because of this international footprint that Scotiabank is now one of the biggest banks in the world with more than 70,000 employees. We are the largest bank in the Caribbean and Central America. In fact, we were in Kingston, Jamaica, before we moved our head office to Toronto. We are also the largest Canadian bank in Latin America and have been in Asia for decades.”
In 2003, Waugh was named a director as well as president and CEO. Scotiabank became one of the world’s top 25 banks ranked by market capitalization. The international consulting firm of Oliver Wyman included it among the 10 best-performing banks during the recent worldwide financial crisis. In 2010, Scotiabank’s return on equity was higher than any other major Canadian bank, as well as that of most of its overseas rivals.
Waugh and his wife, Lynne, have three sons. “My children have told me that being committed to one path for 40 years—as I have been—seems daunting,” he says. “But I tell them that if they work hard and achieve when and where they can, if they keep a balance between their work and family life, and if they maintain their values, then things just have a way of working out. Getting to the top of my field was never my goal. I simply did the best I could with the job that was in front of me.”
Waugh believes few things are definite. “Most things are gray, rather than black and white, so it is important to rely on your instincts,” he says. “If your instincts are based on solid values, then the important decisions you make will be sound. I believe that if you maintain your values and a balance between your work and family life, then you will be successful at whatever you do.”
For Waugh, success is knowing that he tried his best. “There have been times when I tried my best and the result was failure,” he says. “After all, no one bats a thousand. But if you do your best and if you do what is right, then you can feel successful.”
Waugh says he is honored to receive the Horatio Alger Association’s International Award. “Being recognized for your achievements is great, but only if it leads to doing something greater. I hope I will be able to take the principles of the Horatio Alger Association and apply them to the Canadian context,” he says. “We Canadians share so many of the values of our American neighbors. I will work hard to expand the ideals of the Association in Canada, starting by introducing Canadian scholarships to Canadian universities.”
Waugh has led United Way; under his leadership, the organization raised $100 million. He has also co-chaired the End MS (multiple sclerosis) Campaign. “It has been shown that those who live in the most northern climes have a higher incidence of multiple sclerosis,” he notes. “You can hardly find a Canadian who hasn’t been touched in some way by the disease—including, for me, a close family member—which makes this work very important to me.”
Advocates for the importance of higher education, Waugh and his family have endowed scholarships to the University of Manitoba for children of Scotiabank employees outside Canada. In keeping with his commitment to education, he is on the advisory councils for the Guanghua School of Management at China’s Peking University and the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. The Waugh family has also contributed funds to build Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Waugh has served as a fellow of the Institute of Canadian Bankers. The Canadian Council for the Americas has given Waugh its Merit of Honor for his distinguished contribution to the Americas. In 2009, the New York–based Foreign Policy Association gave him its Corporate Social Responsibility Award. The Dominican Republic conferred on him the Order of Merit for distinguished service to that Caribbean nation.
Waugh has served as vice chair of the board at the Washington-based Institute of International Finance (IIF), as a trustee of the IIF’s Principles for Stable Capital Flows in Emerging Markets, on the board of the International Monetary Conference (IMC), and was elected vice president of that organization in 2011.