DeGroote School of Business Dean Len Waverman (centre) with winning authors András Tilcsik (left) and Chris Clearfield. Waverman once again served on the NBBA jury, and DeGroote was a supporting partner. Photos courtesy of David Pike.
“It was a warm Monday in late June, just before rush hour.”
So begins the prologue of Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik’s Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It (Allen Lane), winner of the 2019 National Business Book Award (NBBA).
The book explores how seemingly unrelated disasters in the nuclear, medical, and transportation sectors share common causes. Through a combination of research and real-life stories, Clearfield and Tilcsik unpack how the increasing complexity of our systems create conditions ripe for failure, and why our brains can’t keep up.
The pair received the $30,000 prize Wednesday morning during a ceremony at Bennett Jones LLP’s Toronto office.
Clearfield, originally a derivatives trader, is the founder of System Logic, a research and consulting firm that helps organizations manage the risk of catastrophic failure.
Tilcsik holds the Canada Research Chair in Strategy, Organizations, and Society at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He’s known for studying corporate practices that reduce the risk and impact of environmental disasters.
Despite the grim subject matter in their book, “there is a good news angle embedded in it,” explained Clearfield, during an on-stage interview with host Peter Mansbridge following the award presentation. “Most of the book is dedicated to solutions.”
Other finalists included Howard Green, Railroader: The Unfiltered Genius and Controversy of Four-time CEO Hunter Harrison (Page Two); Phil Lind with Robert Brehl, Right Hand Man: How Phil Lind Guided the Genius of Ted Rogers, Canada’s Foremost Entrepreneur (Barlow Books); and David Shoalts, Hockey Fight In Canada: The Big Media Faceoff over the NHL (Douglas & McIntyre).
The jury, which once again included DeGroote School of Business Dean Len Waverman, evaluated the nominees based on five key criteria – originality, relevance, excellence of writing, thoroughness of research, and depth of analysis.
Mansbridge, former Chief Correspondent, CBC Television, resumed his role as jury chair. He noted the jury referred to Waverman simply as “the Dean,” drawing light laughter from the crowd.
Other jury members included Deirdre McMurdy, Adjudicator; David Denison, Corporate Director; the Honourable Pamela Wallin; and author and publisher Anna Porter (on leave).
The NBBA is an annual celebration of Canadian authors of outstanding non-fiction business-related books. It continues to gain attention from not only the Canadian business world, but also publishers, authors, journalists, academics, economists, and business leaders internationally. Presenting Sponsors were BMO Financial Group and Bennett Jones LLP.
“The National Business Book Award continues to draw us to fresh thinking and thought-provoking stories that stimulate new conversations among corporate leaders and directors across Canada,” said alumnus Gino Scapillati, BCom ’81, Vice Chair, Strategy and Innovation, Bennett Jones.
“Our lawyers and business advisors share the business community’s intellectual curiosity for new ways of thinking that inspire and enlighten,” he continued.
DeGroote was a supporting partner on the affair, along with the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Media partners included The Globe and Mail and The Walrus, while award partners were Church+State and Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario. The event was managed by Freedman and Associates Inc.