He may run the country’s largest bank, but RBC CEO Gord Nixon also has a lot to do with golf in Canada and abroad these days — especially with RBC sponsoring both the Canadian Open and the PGA of America, as well as a number of players, including Fred Couples, Luke Donald, Mike Weir, and Anthony Kim.
Two weeks ago I spoke with Nixon for a half hour about the company’s involvement with golf for a story I wrote for Golf Canada. However, I didn’t get to use many of the quotes. So here are five questions on the game of golf with RBC CEO Gord Nixon:
G4G: Did the decision to sponsor the Canadian Open end up on your desk?
Nixon: It got to this level. Not everything does – but the Canadian Open or the Olympics does. And the Canadian Open got there quite significantly for a couple of reasons. It was important to have a Canadian Open and a Canadian tournament. But if we were going to do it, we wanted to do it well and invest in it. We’ve invested in it quite significantly in terms of trying to make it a better tournament. It was probably the second or third time [Golf Canada] came to see me and that we finally agreed. It wasn’t as if we jumped on it as a property. It ended up being a great opportunity and in a branding and sponsorship perspective, it has ended up being a great return.
G4G: You’re a golfer (Nixon plays at several clubs, including Rosedale and Memphremagog in Quebec). What impact does that have in your involvement with golf as a marketing vehicle for RBC?
Nixon: I enjoy golf, which helps. Not that it is a requirement, but it makes it easier for me to get out and participate. On the Wednesday, at the pro-am, rather than play – because I have lots of opportunity to do that – I get in a cart and go around to every foursome and thank the golfers for their participation and let them know how pleased we are that they’ve come. I enjoy it, but I try to do what I can to improve the tournament.
G4G: Do you see RBC’s role as helping to save the Canadian Open?
Nixon: The country needed someone to step up and underwrite the tournament so it would survive and I like to think we did it well for Canada.
G4G: A lot of financial institutions have shied away from golf while RBC went headlong into it.
Nixon: I’d say it was twofold and I want to say this as diplomatically as possible. The knee-jerk reaction of walking away was partially perception and partially economics. You had a lot of growth banks in the U.S. that were spending money that their shareholders, or the boards, or the governments — if you look at RBS, it is 89% owned by the government — well, some of the institutions from an economic perspective were looking at ways to cut back and spend less. And part of it was the perception issue, which has proven to be false. We invested in golf — and the one exception is Canada. I don’t think anyone would criticize RBC for saving the Canadian Open and if they want to, I’m prepared to take that criticism. In terms of our sponsorship, it is a business decision, it is an investment decision. And this perception that company’s shouldn’t be putting on or sponsoring golf, or entertaining clients as a result of what happened in the United States … it was very sensitive for a while. But the pendulum has swung back and I think people have recognized it is important to economic development that people have conventions in Las Vegas or invest in golf tournaments or do entertain clients in restaurants.
G4G: Do you expect RBC will sign on as sponsor of the Canadian Open once its current contract ends in 2012?
Nixon: I think the answer is yes. But I’ll tell you something a little bit tongue in cheeck — my answer is if the price is right. You don’t do things for egos, you do things because it makes sense and is a good return on investment and you can work it well. The economics have to be reasonable.