Breaking Tackles And Barriers: The legacy of Bill Hatanaka
Canadian football fans might first tie Bill Hatanaka’s name to a history-making play in what’s regarded by many as the greatest Grey Cup game ever played.
While his 79-yard punt return touchdown in the 64th Grey Cup proved to be a spectacular journey – and the first punt return touchdown in Grey Cup history – his life off the field has been even more impressive, with a further-reaching impact.
Hatanaka played just four years in the CFL and happily took the experience of winning that Grey Cup with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1976 with him into a career in finance. His work in efforts to spotlight and encourage diversity and inclusion continue to this day.
A Japanese-Canadian whose parents overcame internment during World War II, Hatanaka’s passion for diversity and inclusion stem from a number of experiences that have shown him first-hand examples of its benefits through his life.
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“I think that when we talk about my sense of my interest in diversity, it’s by virtue of being a visible minority, a member of a visible minority group,” he told Donnovan Bennett in an exclusive interview with CFL.ca.
“It also has an awful lot to do with my family history. My family history is interesting in that there is an illness that runs through many generations of my family, on my mother’s side. As a result, one in every three members of the family is a paraplegic (due to) a progressive illness that results in adult onset, a disability.
“So I grew up knowing that this illness has impacted so many members of my family on an intergenerational basis. They basically made their way in wheelchairs. To have that as a reality within the family was very powerful. As a result, accessibility and the issues around accessibility are very important to me.”
In a career that’s seen him work as the chief operating officer of wealth management at RBC, a senior executive in charge of global wealth and asset management at TD Bank and eventually TD Bank’s inaugural chair of its diversity leadership council, Hatanaka has gone to great lengths to demonstrate the need and value of diversity in any workplace.
“We learned it to use diversity and inclusion to help us understand that it was important for us to reflect our clients, the faces of our clients, the histories and the paths of our clients within our own employee base,” Hatanaka said.
“The business imperative for diversity and inclusion is very clear. The deepest pools of talent, you access the best thinking. You allow people to be their authentic selves when they come to work. You send a message to your clients and your customers out there that they are welcome within your institution.
“The business case for diversity within financial institutions, institutions generally and sporting organizations is very clear. You take the Canadian Football League, I’m very proud to be an alum of the Canadian Football League. This is a great Canadian institution, as we all know, that’s withstood the ravages of time and exists today as strong as ever.
“The tagline Diversity Is Strength is the best tagline I’ve ever heard from a professional sports organization. And what it sends is a message that…everybody is welcome. This is a big tent. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. You are welcome within the CFL. You may be a spectator, you may be a sponsor, you may be a player, but you are welcome and you are contributing to the strength of the overall organization. It’s very, very powerful stuff and I’m proud of the league.”
“My parents could have painted their past in many different ways. But the way they painted it, to me, was triumph over difficult obstacles and the triumph of the human spirit really, over difficult challenges.”
— Bill Hatanaka on his parents’ perspective of overcoming internment in Canada during WWII
Bennett suggested to Hatanaka that a football locker room may be the most diverse workspace that you’ll find in Canada. Asked what he remembered about his days in that Rough Riders locker room with his teammates, Hatanaka remembered an environment that had camaraderie, but was about working together more than anything else.
“I wish I could go back to those times and as a more mature individual, savour those moments to an even greater extent when you’re there in real time,” he said.
“You’re immersed in the whole thing, and sometimes you don’t get to capture all that, but I would say it’s an intense team experience.
“My Japanese-Canadian Heritage, my Asian heritage was of interest to the media at points of time, but within the locker room, my teammates were my teammates. They were brothers, they were family and they didn’t care about my Asian heritage so much. It was, did I have the drive? Did I have the focus? Did I have the ability to persevere? Could I be a great member of a team and could I sublimate my own individual goals to the extent that I could be a great teammate?
“Those were the things that were important to them, rather than where you’re from, or your heritage, that was a different point altogether. Our ability to come together as a team was everything in terms of how we would succeed on the field and how that would translate into a sustainable organization.”
Today, Hatanaka is the board chair of Ontario Health and has board roles with Invesco Canada and ICE NGX Canada Ltd. He also volunteers as the advisor to the Japanese Cultural Centre and spent almost a decade at his alma mater, York University as an honourary governor.
“I often thought my parents could have painted their past in many different ways,” Hatanaka said of those early moments that ended up shaping his outlook on the world.
“But the way they painted it, to me, was triumph over difficult obstacles and the triumph of the human spirit really, over difficult challenges. I always took that forward as a point of pride.”