2000: “We never laid off a single employee despite the huge challenges of the early years, where we had to cut half of the branches.” – Harry Buddle

Next up in the Business Person of the Year sweepstakes was Harry Buddle, an unassuming accountant with an MBA from Simon Fraser University. Buddle had been busy resurrecting failed credit unions in B.C. when the Alberta government came calling. In 1987, he moved to Alberta to manage the aftermath of a merger of eight failed credit unions into Capital City Savings (now Servus Credit Union). Although Buddle, his wife and their nine children had just moved to the province, he worked seven days a week, 365 days a year for the first two years to pull Capital City out of the mud. “I had developed skills in the turn-around business, and I would go in as Mr. Fix It,” says Buddle, now 75. For many companies, the first step in damage control during a recession is to cut back on staff, but not for Buddle. “I refused to do that. People were cutting salaries, and I refused to do that,” he says. “We never laid off a single employee despite the huge challenges of the early years where we had to cut half of the branches.” Instead, he froze salaries and introduced profit sharing to his employees. As a result, Capital City made substantial profits and distributed the equivalent of about 12 per cent of people’s salaries as profit sharing. Inspiring people was not limited to his staff, though. When he first came to the company, Buddle noticed half of the credit unions under his management were based on language or ethnicity. So he created “community councils” to give them a voice on the management of their banking. This unprecedented move attracted other credit unions to merge with Capital City, which helped expand it across the nation. By his retirement in 2007, Buddle had turned a $175-million deficit into $225 million in positive capital-retained earnings. Today, the credit union’s assets are worth $14 billion, making it the largest credit union in the province and the second largest in the country. This stands as a remarkable feat for a man who hasn’t stopped working since he was eight years old. Buddle was four when his father, a school custodian, died in a work-related accident, leaving his mother to care for three children. With no education, she started cleaning homes and renting rooms for war vets. Buddle himself had a paper route and began loading trucks in the early mornings, while picking fruit in the summer. When he turned 19, he decided to become an accountant. Buddle may be retired, but he hasn’t lost his passion for banking. He says one of the biggest challenges today is that the provincial government lends its support to one particular bank. “I’m not criticizing Alberta Treasury Branches [ATB],” he says. “I’m simply saying it’s a creature of government, and there’s lots of banking competition. There are credit unions and all the chartered banks, and I don’t see why we need to compete with the government who are running a financial institution as well.”

The Year that Was 2000

Alberta’s population 3 million

Y2K fears turn out to have been waaaay overblown

Alberta implements the single-rate (flat) tax. Provincial Treasurer Steve West muses about the possibility of the abolition of personal taxes within the decade

Izzy Asper and CanWest Global Communications took control of the WIC TV stations in Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton