Skip to Main Content
Blogs · Michael Major

Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy on leadership, accountability, and transparency

Aug 21, 2020

Ivey's MBA Teachable Moments MBA Perspective (10)

Michael Major is an Ivey MBA 2021 candidate interested in the factors and strategies that drive long-term performance for global organizations. Michael is attending Ivey to cultivate his network, problem-solving acumen, and leadership skills. He has an honours bachelor’s degree in political science, and his professional experience spans sales and marketing in the consumer packaged goods and retail industries. Outside of professional endeavours, you can find Michael exploring the great outdoors in skis or hiking boots.  

From the private sector to fiscal leadership

Joining the Ivey MBA class of 2021 and moderator Romel Mostafa, Director of the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management, Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy was in his Queen's Park office and had just completed a meeting with Premier Doug Ford on working with the business leaders of Ontario. A week earlier, his government had released projections that the Ontario budget deficit would be $38.5B in 2020-2021, the largest in the province’s history, the bulk of which was due to support programs to tackle fallout from COVID-19. Born in Montreal, Quebec to a family of Hungarian immigrants fleeing World War II, Bethlenfalvy received a BSc and MBA from McGill University and a MA from the University of Toronto. Bethlenfalvy would later complete a 25-year private sector career as the CIO of CST Consultants, Co-President of DBRS Ltd, and COO of TD Securities.

Civic duty and gratefulness for freedom and democracy drove Bethlenfalvy to represent Pickering-Uxbridge as an MPP for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. It was at this time that he took on the role in Premier Ford’s cabinet as the President of the Treasury Board. In its simplest form, his role is to ensure that the provincial government is making the best and most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

On transparency and being accountable

In his discussion with MBA students, Bethlenfalvy highlighted his ethos as being accountable and transparent. Bethlenfalvy’s career success and strict adherence to this mindset teaches leaders everywhere that adoption of responsibility and clarity will earn you the respect of your peers, constituents, co-workers, and partners. He manifested this ethos by bringing enterprise risk management to the government of Ontario, exercising a line-by-line review of government spending and streamlining the government funding application process. Bethlenfalvy’s last five months genuinely illustrated to our MBA class the gravity of planning for contingencies and the critical need to have a plan in the face of adversity. His actions echoed the leadership sentiment that in a crisis, a good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed at some point in the distant future.

Leveraging an emergency to accelerate the pace of change

Bethlenfalvy’s background prepared him to become a committed listener and collaborator, allowing him to engage and align stakeholders at all levels of business and government. His management of all program and capital spending by the government of Ontario was disciplined and efficient. This approach helped to roll out numerous support programs in a short period of time, undoubtedly lessening the economic blow of an ongoing viral pandemic and a government induced lockdown on Ontario. 

Bethlenfalvy’s position has also demonstrated the power of utilizing an emergency to rapidly implement change and much desired simplification into a province pervaded by red tape. This is a lesson for business leaders who find themselves incrementally working towards the digitalization and modernization of their firms.  For Bethlenfalvy, the pandemic highlighted the importance of digital infrastructure and made clear the need for further investment in this area by means of a national strategy.

Through several bold steps, Bethlenfalvy and several offices across Queens Park enabled the Ontario government to co-create a digital government for the people. These actions brought Service Ontario online, moved approximately 30,000 employees to remote work, and created a COVID-19 tracking app with 1.9M downloads in two weeks.

Bethlenfalvy set out on a modernization project for the government of Ontario in 2018, and the pandemic gave himself and the government an opportunity to accelerate that project while protecting the people of Ontario.

Balancing the budget with innovation and growth

Rather than cutting costs and eliminating jobs, Bethlenfalvy made it clear that his priority is to grow the Ontario economy by helping the province prioritize its strengths, such as agriculture, technology, and advanced manufacturing.  His prioritization is a valuable lesson for business leaders. By focusing on your strengths, there is a higher likelihood you are to be differentiated and thus generate cash flow for your organization. Along with the elimination of red tape to spur innovation, and the creation of conditions for capital and job growth, Bethlenfalvy believes that Ontario will be on the path to a balanced budget even after desperate emergency spending. Bethlenfalvy also makes it clear that he will not jeopardize public health in favour of the budget. It is far more critical to defend the lifeblood of your community - your people.