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Who Made Breakfast?

August 11, 2020

A human resources guru once told me that almost everyone’s professional
success can be attributed to one inflection point — a particular event — that
often lasts no more than a few minutes. That definitely happened to me at
the genesis of what would eventually become Breakfast with Dave. I
remember exactly what transpired as if it were yesterday.


In October of 1998, I was working at BMO Nesbitt Burns when I attended
the annual client gala at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. This was an
important evening, featuring the legendary chef Jamie Kennedy, hundreds
of the firm’s top institutional clients, and a feature debate between chief
economist Sherry Cooper, who was my boss, and the chief strategist at
Harris Investment Management, Don Coxe, who became a dear friend and
mentor to me (and a legend in this business). It was always a lively and
entertaining evening at these annual Sherry-Don debates.


After the debate had ended, I was at the bar ordering a scotch when a fellow
named Bill Downe walked up to me and said, “I’ve been waiting for a chance
to meet and talk to you.” I almost choked on my single malt. Bill was one of
the most senior people at the investment bank. In fact, he had recently been
promoted from another senior role south of the border to head up the entire
treasury operation out of Toronto headquarters. What did he want to talk to
me about?

In those years, I presented at the majority of the morning
meetings for the Treasury group — stocks, bonds, FX, you name it. I spent
many an hour on the trading floor. As senior economist, I was responsible
for the call on the financial markets, while my colleague and good buddy
Doug Porter (now the chief economist) made the forecasts on the real
macro front. And here was one of the most powerful people at BMO, seeking
me out. I was nervous as hell (as an aside, Bill went on to become CEO of
the entire bank from 2007 to 2017, and if there was a Hall of Fame of
Canadian bankers, he would definitely be a first-ballot inductee).
Here’s how I remember our conversation.


Bill said, “I’ve been attending some of your morning meetings since I arrived
in Toronto.”

“Uh oh,” I thought. I guess he could see the worried look on my face because he rushed to say,

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. Everyone loves your meetings. But you see, you
talk way too damned fast and the traders and salespeople can’t keep up,
and then it’s a classic case of broken telephone: ‘What was it Rosie said
again?’” Then came the inflection point in one sentence.

Bill said, “I want you to get your morning meetings down on paper. In fact, I want it to become your own report, call it something snazzy, and we’ll market the hell out of it.”


I was reluctant at first, believe it or not. Extra work. Extra pressure. Physical
evidence of calls gone awry! Plus, Sherry would be reluctant to add to my
workload. But Bill wouldn’t take no for an answer.


My daily was born that same month. The title wasn’t so “snazzy” – it was
called A.M. Notes – but it took off like a rocket ship. And it didn’t take long
before I really enjoyed doing it, even though it meant sacrificing an hour’s
sleep (or two). Putting my observations down in print meant having even
more discipline and conviction because there was no turning back after I
pressed send. The Internet was still in its infancy, and A.M. Notes was a
pioneer, long before economic and financial dailies became the norm.


The daily was blasted out throughout the bank, and was re-sent to clients,
institutional and retail alike, as well as the media. All of a sudden, I was
being quoted in the morning papers (not unhappily, I should say. In the
prima donna economics industry, there is never anything wrong with a bit of
notoriety) and being asked by the equity and fixed income sales teams to
meet with their institutional clients. In the months that followed, I met every
important portfolio manager and CIO on Bay Street. Within a year, I started
to get ranked in the Brendan Woods survey of Canadian economists in the
financial industry. The rankings were made sweeter still because I was the
only “senior” economist to be right up in the rankings with the “chief”
economists on Bay Street.


A.M. Notes became so popular that it was the prime reason that Merrill
Lynch Canada hired me away from BMO to be its Toronto-based chief
economist and strategist back in early 2000. When I was negotiating before
I joined, the heads of the bond and stock departments asked me if I could
continue doing the daily.
I said, “Of course.”
They said, “We read it, and see that you talk about everything under the sun
in all four corners of the earth.”
I said, “Well, thank you.”
They said, “No — it’s not a compliment. It’s that we have economists and
strategists in New York, Rome, Tokyo, Paris, London, Frankfurt, Mexico City,
Sydney… you are basically the Canadian ambassador for the entire Merrill
Lynch enterprise. Please tell us you’ll stick to your knitting, that you won’t
poke anyone in the eye, that you’ll keep your nose clean and just stick to
Canada.”
So I lied and said, “Sure thing, no worries.”


It wasn’t more than a year before I was ranked first in economics and third
in strategy in that Brendan Woods survey of Canadian institutional
investors. I was never a pure strategist, but the folks at Merrill Lynch Canada

liked the fact that I didn’t shy away from attaching market calls with the
macro calls. I believe we held onto that top spot in economics for close to a
decade and were consistently ranked in the top three in equity strategy. The
daily was now called, Canada: Morning Market Memo, but enjoyed an even
broader distribution with that powerful Merrill sales force.


I ended up getting promoted to the chief economist job in the Big Apple in
the Fall of 2002. Candace Browning, who headed up Merrill’s research
effort then, and still does today, told me it was really my call if I wanted to
continue writing the daily. She was worried I would get burnt out given the
already-intense demands of the role. To tell you the truth, it was exhausting.
But I reached a point where the daily became a part of me I couldn’t get rid
of. It kept me really sharp and I could see that it was a big help to the Merrill
trading and sales desks, the famous “thundering herd” of financial advisers,
and our clients. While it was painful getting up at 4:00 a.m., I always enjoyed
writing the missive (and still do today, though now I sleep in until 4:30!).
When I got to New York, I just called it Morning Market Memo. Still not that
“snazzy,” but I liked the fact that it was an alliteration.


A few years into my role as chief economist in New York, Patrick Brady, head
of Merrill’s U.S. institutional sales force, told me that when I was
spearheading the macro strategy effort in Toronto, everyone in the global
Merrill system got hooked on the daily. Patrick and I were out for dinner at
a great Italian spot we frequented in Tribeca, and I recall him saying
something like, “You don’t really know how you got discovered here in New
York, do you?” I admitted that I didn’t have a clue. He said that there was
one day in 2000 or 2001 when Bob McCann (who had Bill Downe’s job as
head of Treasury operations at Merrill at the time) was walking on the
trading floor, and saw Canada: Morning Market Memo strewn everywhere
— on desks, on chairs, on the floor.


As Patrick put it, “Bob says, ‘you guys are the U.S. desk, why the hell are
you reading this stuff from Canada?’” and I replied, “Bob, everyone in the
entire global system reads this guy. I’m surprised you don’t.” He apparently
put himself on my distribution list shortly thereafter, and it was
unbeknownst to me that the senior brass at Merrill had me on their radar
screen from afar.


It was Bob McCann who called me in 2002 to ask if I wanted to be
considered for the chief economist role in New York. Again, this was a time
when few economists were putting out dailies early in the morning. I had a
bit of a monopoly going and was just fine with that. There was no better
feeling than getting a call from the equity and fixed income sales desk that
would go something like, “Hey Rosie, I have the CIO from Fidelity on the line
who wants more color on something you wrote in today’s daily.” Within three
years in New York, I was ranked in the top three of the Investors Intelligence
survey and hung onto that until I left for Toronto in the spring of 2009 (keep
in mind that for much of that time, I was way too early on the housing recession and widely viewed as being just plain wrong).

By January or February of 2009, I knew it was time to return to Toronto to
be closer to my family. I was on the “bubble,” certain that I was going to
resign soon, when the hedge fund desk at Merrill took me out for steak and
wine with the senior people at a famous (now defunct) hedge fund (Galleon),
and then off to a New York Rangers game at MSG. I sat next to Angela Dalton
at the game – she was the co-head of investments at the fund and a valued
client.


Not long after the puck dropped, she pulled a report out of her bag and said,
“Does this look familiar?”
I replied, “Yeah, that’s my report from this morning.”
She asked, “Do you remember what you said?”
I pleaded ignorance: “I’m thinking more about what I’m going to pen
tomorrow.” She then showed me that morning’s Morning Market Memo with
writing all over it, including arrows going up and down.
She said, “Do you know we meet every morning just on your daily?”
Incredulous, I replied, “Come on.”
She continued, “It’s true. Now you may not recall what you wrote today, but
you pushed us out of one trade and into two new positions. You’re a savant.”
I am not making any of this up, folks.
She pointed to the two Merrill sales guys and said out of earshot, “I bet they
never told you the commissions we paid them today based on what you had
to say.” (Of course, they didn’t!).


Angela revealed that she wasn’t really a hockey fan and suggested we ditch
the game and go for a drink and chat. During that conversation, she asked,
“Why on earth don’t you start your own research firm?” I wasn’t at liberty to
tell her I was on the verge of announcing that I was leaving Merrill, and
frankly, I wasn’t sure what my next gig was going to be at that point. But I
was intrigued by her idea. Angela asked the server at the bar for a sheet of
paper and she mapped the entire strategy for me — to start my own firm.
Well, it only took 11 years to turn it into a reality! (Angela Dalton — I owe you
a huge dose of gratitude. I have never forgotten who it was that put the bug
in my ear!).


Back in Toronto in the winter of 2009, I was negotiating with the Gluskin
Sheff folks about joining them. Senior brass wasn’t thrilled about the idea
of me continuing on with my daily, but somehow, I convinced them that this
would be a win-win but also made it clear that this was a condition of my
employment. They relented. After all, we’re talking about my stock and trade
here!


Of course, the daily again needed a new snazzy title! At that time, the tag
line at Gluskin Sheff was “Stubbornly Unconventional.” I’ll tell you — that
really spoke to me because that is who I am and who I have always been.

So the new title was not going be something conventional like A.M. Notes
or Morning Market Memo.


I turned to family for the answer. Back when my parents were alive, they,
my wife and kids and I, along with my sister and her family would meet every
Sunday morning at United Bakers, a legendary dairy deli in northern Toronto
(pea and bean/barley soup to die for). For years we congregated at the exact
same table, and we had the same server, Helen, who we adored.


Well, as I digress, on this one Sunday at United back in April of 2009, just
prior to my first day at Gluskin, we were all going around the table debating
what the name of the daily should be changed to. The debate got hot, it got
intense, as all our family conversations did back then (and still do today!),
and our youngest of the three, Michael, who was nine or ten years old,
blurted out as he was munching on his pizza bagel, “Breakfast with Dave.”
You could hear a pin drop.
And then, in unison, we all broke out, “That’s it!”
I said, “Mikey, that’s so simple and yet so brilliant… what made you come
up with that?”
He replied, “Dad, it’s pretty simple. People read your stuff over breakfast
and your name is Dave.”


So there you have it. How the title Breakfast with Dave came to be… over a
family breakfast on a Sunday morning some twelve years ago. And with a
dash of spontaneity from a pre-teen!

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