When recounting the kind of person Jim Norton was both personally and professionally, Barry Noble, vicepresident, distribution for Manulife Financial in Toronto, recalls an incident when Jim was with Watson Wyatt Worldwide in the mid-1990s. The two of them were meeting with a large client whose drug plan had just been awarded to Manulife. As Noble recounts, the details of the plan were being discussed and Jim was helping explain the ins and outs to the plan sponsor.
“And the senior guy(the client)just said ‘Stop, stop everybody. I just have to say this.’ And he looks at Jim and he says ‘don’t you just love this guy?’ I’ve never seen anything like that— ever,” says Noble. The story is just one of many that epitomizes the professionalism and personality Jim Norton brought to the benefits industry.
Jim was born in Montreal on March 17, 1935 but grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. He later moved to Toronto and worked as an economist. In the early stages of his illustrious career, Jim served as an economics professor at Brock University. He employed his knowledge and insight in public service when he served as a councilor for the City of Toronto under the New Democratic Party slate.
But public life was short-lived for Jim; he went to work for William M. Mercer in the mid-1970s. While there, he was sent to Boston where he amalgamated the firm of Marsh McLennan into the Mercer family. “He was unique in that he consulted in employee benefits on both sides of the border,” says Fred Holmes, senior director, PBM Center of Excellence with Emergis Inc. in Mississauga, Ont.
Ask any one of his colleagues and they all sing the same tune: Jim Norton was a thought leader who shared his knowledge and experience with everyone. Friends say he did not see others as competitors and was a mentor to many. “Jim’s inquisitive nature and broad range of interests endeared him to both clients and professional associates alike,” added Michael Coward, principal with Mercer Human Resource Consulting in Toronto.
But Jim Norton had strong opinions on healthcare benefits and made his opinions known to the industry at large. In the September 2001 issue of BENEFITS CANADA, in which Jim acted as guest editor, he wrote: “Many of us take too many drugs. Some of us take the wrong drugs and others don’t take enough or don’t take them properly. We have become part of a phenomenon known as the medicalization of life. We have forgotten how to look after ourselves.” Having had openheart surgery both in the U.S. and in Canada, he had a keen sense of what healthcare means in North America and how best to address the issues around effective drug usage.
Jim wrote many times for both BENEFITS CANADA and Canadian Healthcare Manager. He was a winner of the 2000 Who’s Who in Healthcare Award, and sat on the Advisory Board of the Aventis Healthcare Survey.
Ed Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Buffett Taylor in Whitby, Ont., says of Jim Norton, “The managed formularies, diseasestate management and wellness programs that are commonplace in the Canadian benefits marketplace are due to Jim’s innovation.” His mantra, adds Buffett, was to teach people about drug consumption and how to make sure the right people were taking the right drugs for the right illness. “And he made that the way it is in the marketplace.”
Norton never slowed down and by all accounts retired four times in his career. He made moves from Mercer to the consulting firm Foster Higgins in the U.S. to Foster Higgins Canada to Watson Wyatt Worldwide and then to Aon Consulting.
By the time Jim Norton finally retired from his last post at Watson Wyatt and set up his own firm, Kris Kringle and Associates, he was keenly aware of Canada’s healthcare issues and in some ways foresaw the future. In September 2001 he wrote: “Two-tier privatized healthcare means more expensive, lower quality healthcare. Is this what we want for Canada—higher cost and lower quality? We can do better than this. Healthcare cannot escape being a political issue because ultimately politicians make the decisions on how much money to put into the system. But let’s not let ideology dominate the debate.”
Joel Kranc is news editor of BENEFITSCANADA. Joel.email@example.com