Inspiration: Ian Markham

Markham plans ahead with passion, playfulness and adventure

When it comes to retirement and pensions, one eye is always on the future. So it makes sense that Ian Markham, Canadian retirement innovation leader with Towers Watson—a man who has dedicated much of his life to the Canadian pension industry—loves looking ahead.

He says it was an elderly cousin who taught him the importance of looking to the future. At 100 years old, this relative—a medical professor in New York—refused to let his age prevent him from pursuing his goals and passions. He continued to work, travel and create new goals for his life, many of which spanned several years. Markham says this conversation sparked his own desire to keep planning for the future.

“This idea of constantly planning ahead, so you have many, many, many things ahead, it just gives you—well, it gives me, anyway—great exhilaration of what’s potentially coming.”

And over the span of his 35-year career, Markham has established himself as someone who is very good at discussing what’s potentially coming with Canadian pensions. He is one of the country’s leading voices on the pension industry; a quick Internet search of his name will find his quotes in everything from industry publications to major Canadian newspapers. His appeal as a media source stems from his personable nature and innate ability to present difficult topics in simplified terms. It was that skill that guided his career path from early on. After working in actuarial insurance, he switched to pensions and consulting because he wanted a career that put him directly in touch with people. “I needed to have an externally focused job.”

A native of East Africa, Markham came to Canada by way of England in 1978 and took on pension consulting work with KPMG. And despite his initial shyness, he was soon speaking on committees and at seminars. “[I] decided that the only way in which I could combat my quietness was to become noisy. So I decided to speak as often as I could in every forum I could find, even though my heart might have been beating enormously.”

His talent for talking was noticed by publisher CCH Canadian Ltd. during a session in the mid-1980s on RRSP contribution rules. CCH’s president hired Markham as the primary author on a series of books entitled Canadian Pensions and Retirement Income Planning and to do a cross-country seminar tour. From there, Markham’s future as a lay people’s voice for pensions was solidified. “It’s an awfully dry subject, pension tax,” he laughs. “And [I have] a love of bringing complex ideas to people and simplifying [them].”

Markham has spent the past 13 years at Towers Watson, where his role has been not only to harness solutions to challenges in the pension field but also to “make them accessible to people as quickly and as easily as possible.” His client mix includes those who are experts in pensions and those who have less knowledge of the topic; he seeks the middle ground that can appeal to both. “I’ve found a way of helping all of those different people understand the complexities.”

Even outside of work, Markham loves to tackle things that may seem difficult to many. A lover of travelling—and scaling mountains in particular—he has climbed Kilimanjaro three times and spent six weeks in India and Nepal trekking around Mount Everest. He says even his immigration to Canada was inspired by his yearning for adventure—and he plans to continue seeking adventure, and planning ahead, as long as he can.

“I just feel that you have only one life, and, hopefully, it’s a long one, and every hour that goes by is an hour you can do something with,” he says. “I see my life as a massive adventure.”

Tammy Burns is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto.

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