Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The King of Bay Street

Here is a good article of Fred's 50th year on Bay Street:

The King of Bay Street
50 years and Fred Ketchen is still going strong

Sunday, September 16, 2007


In a Bay Street minute--Fred Ketchen has seen it all.
From meltdowns to mergers, to striking it rich, losing fortunes, and even suicide.

"I remember walking down Bay Street, seeing a commotion, and then a body lying on the sidewalk," Ketchen said. "Some poor broker jumped."

Working on Bay Street is not for the faint of heart.

But despite the stresses, there are many highs and Ketchen, 72, couldn't envision his life anywhere else.

In fact, if this stock market guru was to die, he wouldn't choose heaven or hell. He'd choose to come back and do it all over again. On Bay Street.

It was 50 years ago today, on Sept. 16, 1957, that a 22-year-old from Port Credit, with huge ambitions, joined brokerage firm McLeod Young Weir & Co. There he was, his adrenalin pumping, making trades on the floor of the old Toronto Stock Exchange building at 234 Bay Street, now the Design Exchange.

He knew the building well. His father, Mansell, was vice-president of administration at the TSE from 1927 to 1965. Back then, there was Saturday morning trading. Ketchen remembers tagging along with dad and waiting for him in the Member's Lounge.

"There were beautiful chesterfields, posh rugs and a big radio," Ketchen recalls. "And I thought, this is where I should be."

But Ketchen, who bought his first shares at age 14, didn't set out to be a broker. When he graduated from Port Credit High in 1954, he headed off to Ottawa to study journalism at Carleton. There were six children in the Ketchen household and money was tight. So, after a year he headed home and pounded the pavement for a job.

He landed one, as a young reporter for the Toronto bureau of the Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones. Only problem was, the pay was miserable. "I made $27 a week, and was told if I did a good job, I'd get a raise after a year," he said. Ketchen was praised for his work, but it took six months to get a raise, and when he got, it was a disappointing $27.50 a week.

He quit.

McLeod Young Weir is where he would make his mark and money.

For five years, he was on the trading floor, where he'd proudly wear his McLeod tartan jacket. "It was a fascinating place to be," he said. It was sad day, when the trading floor -- which later moved to the Exchange Tower -- closed for good in the late 1990s, when electronic trading took over..

After five years, Ketchen moved to the trading desk at McLeod Young Weir, and he worked hard on building wealth for his clients. He even reached for the stars, when in a bold move, he solicited Elizabeth Taylor when she was visiting Toronto.

"I sent a letter to her hotel room telling her how I could make her money grow," he said. He never heard back.

Ketchen helped break a code of silence on Bay Street, which would drive business journalists on deadline mad, and which led to Ketchen becoming a media darling.

It was in the early 80s, interest rates were going skyrocketing, and Ron Adams of CBC Radio (now 680 News) wanted comments from Ketchen. So, off Ketchen trotted, into chairman's Austin Taylor's office and asked, "Well, can I?"

Taylor trusted Ketchen. And Ketchen was good at convincing that Bay Street needed to get out of the ivory towers and meet with Main Street.

In 1988, McLeod Young Weir was swallowed up by Scotiabank in a flurry of brokerage takeovers by the big banks. Ketchen was made a senior v-p of the newly-formed ScotiaMcLeod, as well as director of equity trading -- and his new playground was the trading floor on the 65th floor at Scotia Plaza.

In 1989, he was elected a governor of the TSE (now the TSX), then served as vice-chairman and chairman. Dad, who passed in the mid-1980s, would be proud.

Meanwhile, you couldn't turn on a radio or TV, without hearing from Ketchen..

None of this celebrity status, though, has gone to his head. Neath the starched shirts and impeccable suits, some made by Don Cherry's tailor, is a modest and charitable man.

I know. My daughter Skye can't thank him enough for his generous support of her fundraising efforts for cancer research. His charitable projects are many, but closest to his heart is the Trillium Health Centre, which saved his life. He had two heart attacks in 1991, then was back at the centre this past May. Another angioplasty and two more stents, and Ketchen feels like "a brand new man."

It's been 50 years of setting the alarm clock for 5 a.m., driving the QEW, arriving at his desk at 7 a.m., and working 12-hour days -- so will Ketchen ever slow down?

"One day I may retire, but not yet," he said.

Meanwhile, the legacy of Ketchen and stocks lives on, with his daughter Sherilyn, now on maternity leave, working with him at ScotiaMcLeod.

- Photo courtesy of Fred Ketchen, 1984
- Article courtesy of Linda Leatherdale at the Toronto Sun

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute...isnt the tie in the picture the same one you wore yesterday Fred???