David McKay (BMath ’87)

60th Anniversary Alumni Award Recipient

When David McKay (BMath ’87) arrived at the University of Waterloo in 1983, he was caught off guard by the immense intellectual power surrounding him. “To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever been around so many naturally intelligent people. I really had to up my game,” he says.

Now a passionate champion of co-op education at Waterloo, McKay’s own 30-year career — one that would eventually see him installed as president and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) — started with a co-op placement. 

He vividly remembers that first interview in Needles Hall. 

“It was with RBC, and they had the only job in my hometown of Montreal,” McKay recalls. “I wanted it desperately, so I really had to sell myself.”

Fortunately, McKay got the job and was exposed to things he’d only been studying in class to that point. He was hooked on co-op and emerged from Waterloo with new skills, an ability to focus, and the knowledge that when forced to dig deep, he had what it took. In fact, McKay has spent his entire career — including six Waterloo co-op terms — with RBC. “I always tell students, that one moment in Needles Hall can change your life,” he says. 

Today, McKay is one of this University’s most passionate advocates, and his unwavering support is one of the reasons RBC hires nearly 1,600 co-op and summer students each year.

In addition to his advocacy work, McKay has also shared his leadership and strategic guidance as a member of the University’s Board of Governors. He believes Waterloo will be at the centre of some of the most exciting changes to come in Canada and around the world. 

“The strong co-op program, combined with its great brand, strong academics and research power … in the next 50 years Waterloo will do nothing but shine,” McKay says.