In March, the search began for a new master of the Royal Canadian Mint, slated to replace Ian Bennett sometime this year. This isn’t much of a shock for the coin collecting community. Bennett announced last summer that he would leave the RCM, a job he has done for more than a decade. During that time, he has overseen a lot of innovation and expansion at the Mint, including the world’s first colourized circulating coins, unparalleled growth of non-circulating legal tender issues, a complete switch to plated steel coins, and growth in the number of RCM clients around the world.
He has done that despite a difficult financial climate and some really serious competition from other mints around the world. Bennett has also seen his share of challenges. It was during his time at the helm that the gold count came up some $10 million short. Eventually, an inquiry determined that most of the gold had not gone missing, but that a combination of accounting and system errors had created the problem. So, for a good year, the RCM was in a very unfavourable spotlight. Bennett persevered through the good and the bad, eventually seeing the RCM post the greatest profits in its history as a Crown corporation.
He is also the first head of the RCM in some time not to leave under a black cloud.
Bennett’s immediate predecessor, former cabinet minister David Dingwall, left during a scandal over expense claims. The master before that, Danielle Weatherup, had a long run, but eventually left after a couple of years of red ink. Before her, Ruth Hubbard, the first female head of the Crown corporation was in and out so fast, she barely had time to get the chair warm.
Bennett not only managed to remain on good terms with his government masters, but he received two extensions to his original term of office.
On the surface, the job sounds pretty good.
Good pay, a good benefit package, an indexed pension, lots of travel, and a chance to be around the production of coins all the time. It certainly is enough to make a collector’s mouth water. While I have never done the job, and have nowhere near the qualifications, I suspect reality is very different. The RCM is a large corporation, and the master doesn’t get to wander down to the shop floor and strike a few coins whenever he feels the urge.
Most of that travel involves trying to tie down clients in a very competitive market.
The RCM isn’t the only national mint looking to turn a few bucks by making coins. Every foreign job earned is the result of highly competitive business combined with promoting the quality and innovation that have become the hallmarks of Canadian coins. The same is true in the bullion market. The Krugerrand may not be a significant player anymore, maple leaf has to compete against the U.S. Eagle, the Austrian philharmonic, and Australian kangaroos for every investor dollar, and bullion coins are bought and sold on razor-thin margins even then. I’m afraid the job is more about hard-headed business and political savvy than it is about coins. As for his replacement, well it is way too early to guess.
The government has gone through the process of a public application, but since becoming a Crown corporation, most masters have come to the RCM after a distinguished career in the finance department. In almost every case, except for the colourful Dingwall, who had briefly been minister responsible for the RCM, the successful appointee was someone virtually unknown to the coin collecting world, and I expect that this time it will be the same. Whoever gets this job I wish them luck, Bennett has set the bar fairly high.