Former McKinsey boss tapped as Canadian ambassador to China

06 September 2019 3 min. read

Former McKinsey boss Dominic Barton has been appointed as Canada’s ambassador to China amid the two nations’ ongoing diplomatic dispute centred on Chinese telecommunications tech giant Huawei. The move comes just months after Barton joined the board of Singaporean telco Singtel.

As the fallout from the arrest of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada last year continues unresolved – resulting in highly strained diplomatic relations and escalating trade sanctions – the Canadian government has appointed former McKinsey & Company global managing partner Dominic Barton as its new ambassador to China. Relinquishing his McKinsey role last year, Barton in March joined the board of Singaporean telco Singtel as an independent director.

“His years of experience in Asia, and the significant global economics expertise he has acquired over an impressive career, will make him a great choice to represent Canada, and Canadian interests, in China,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement. Prior to ascending to the top role at McKinsey, Barton served for five years as the management consulting giant’s Asia chairman (based in Shanghai), prior to which he was the managing partner of its Korea office.

Born in Uganda, Barton’s family migrated during his early childhood to the Canadian province of British-Columbia, where he would ultimately earn his degree in economics with the University of British Columbia – later receiving an MPhil in economics from Oxford. “The relationship between Canada and China is an important one, and I will work hard to represent our great country and to resolve the challenges that currently exist,” Barton said in the statement.

Dominic Barton, Canada ambassador to China

Barton has previously served the Canadian government in various capacities, including as the Chair of Canada’s Council on Economic Growth in 2016, and has according to an unnamed government official been busy already over recent months holding discussions with his extensive network in China on trade issues and the detention of two Canadian citizens. Barton was also reportedly responsible for arranging meetings with Chinese officials at the recent G-20 meeting.

In addition to diplomatic and charitable activities, Barton has since stepping aside from McKinsey been serving as Chairman of Canada’s largest diversified mining company Teck Resources (which counts a Chinese state-owned company as one of its largest investors) – a role he has now officially resigned. In March, Barton also joined the board of Singapore-based leading regional telecommunications firm Singtel as an independent director.

“Dominic brings rich expertise and insights from across a broad swathe of industries, having advised clients in banking, consumer goods, tech and industrials over three decades of consulting,” Singtel’s Chairman Simon Israel said at the time. “The diversity of his experience will be invaluable as Singtel’s digital transformation takes the Group into businesses and partnerships that cut across multiple industries.”

With Huawei customer and competitor Singtel majority-owned by Singapore state enterprise Temasek Holdings, and Barton, as a representative of the Canadian government, now tasked with resolving a diplomatic spat which will no doubt revolve around the Chinese firm, it’s unclear if Barton’s various roles now present any conflicts of interest. He remains listed on the Singtel website for now, although as Emeritus his profile page has been curiously pulled from the McKinsey one.