Peter Mansbridge brought his distinct baritone voice to UTSC on Tuesday morning. A longtime journalist, Mansbridge anchors CBC’s flagship nightly newscast, The National. He also hosts Mansbridge One-on-One, where his guests include politicians, musicians, and lately, Olympians. This time, he found himself on the other side. Mansbridge was interviewed by Drew Dudley, founder of UTSC’s Leadership Development Program, which brings high-profile speakers to campus.
Mansbridge dutifully gave his thoughts: “Good leadership is knowing where you want to go. It’s knowing yourself and not waiting to hear what other people think is going to happen.”
Born in 1948 in London, England, Mansbridge immigrated to Canada with his family. He dropped out of high school, left the navy after two years, and ended up in Churchill, Manitoba, working odd jobs at an airport. A local CBC producer who heard him making a flight announcement asked him to work at the radio station. Mansbridge quickly moved up the ranks and ended up hosting The National after Knowlton Nash, the previous host, stepped down.
On Tuesday, Mansbridge recalled what happened after producer Gaston Charpentier heard his flight announcement. “I hadn’t finished high school, never went to university,” Mansbridge told the audience. “I said yes [and] started the next night. I had a one-hour training course, and that’s how it all started for me.”
He said much of his journalism training was self-taught. “I had to teach myself how to write and how to interview. I listened to the shortwave radio and to other broadcasters from different parts of the world [and] I learned about different interviewing styles. It was later that I went into formal CBC training.”
Mansbridge believes his success comes from the qualities he already had—qualities that all budding journalists should have.
“You have to be fascinated with what is going on around you, whether it’s your community, or around the world,” he said. “You have to ask questions and challenge assumptions about issues. You have to be able to communicate with people who are also interested. This is then fine-tuned with education and experience.”
Nash, Mansbridge’s predecessor, is credited with keeping Mansbridge in Canada. Asked if it was true that Nash gave up the job for him, Mansbridge responded, “Well, he was planning to retire in two years anyway. I was probably going to take the CBS job. He called me over to his house one [night] and said he would push up his retirement [and that] I could have his job. I agreed.”
“It paid about a quarter of what the U.S. job did but it wasn’t about money. […] My decision was for other reasons. The CBC had taken a gamble on me. […] I still owed them.”
Mansbridge initially used notes in his interviews, but soon ditched them. “I found I was focusing on [my notes] and not listening, which is a fatal flaw in an interviewer who doesn’t open the doors that answers present.” He also remarked that he had never drawn a blank.
Mansbridge rounded off with an anecdote on how he deals with his “celebrity” status. “When I want to keep myself grounded I think of a cop who stopped me,” he said. The officer recognized his name and remembered that they were in the scouts together. “At the end, he asked me what I did now. I still got the ticket.”