Dial M for Modernity – The M-Bar, 1967

Excerpt from A Vision Greater Than Themselves: The Making of The Bank of Montreal, 1817-2017 by Laurence B. Mussio

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The M-Bar logo was the brainchild of Hans Kleefeld of Stewart & Morrison Ltd, Toronto. Kleefeld was one of Canada’s greatest graphic designers of his day, giving logographic identities to key Canadian institutions, including Air Canada, Molson, Seagram, and Johnson & Johnson, not to mention the Toronto-Dominion Bank.

The new logo was unveiled with great éclat by Chairman and CEO Arnold Hart in 1967 as “another major development being taken by the ‘new’ Bank of Montreal to advance our image of vitality and service.” The new look was to match the new outlook at the Bank, rendered in “First Bank Blue,” a strong light shade that became the official colour.

The introduction of the M-Bar was accompanied inside the bank with a certain impatience to reposition the Bank to a new, more aggressive, and contemporary posture. The revisions of the Bank Act in 1967 allowed the Bank to enter into the mortgage business. It launched into radio and television advertisements. Hart and his team reorganized management and began a series of transformations inspired by a key report on the Bank’s identity, strategy, and performance by McKinsey, which found the Bank too “stuffy.” Salaries were boosted. Incentive pay was rolled out. New business was actively and aggressively sought. Hart’s push to renew was more than welcomed by the Bank’s staff from coast to coast: Hart quipped that “our people seemed to be just waiting for some new policies” to rekindle the Bank’s innovative spirit of ‘first.’

This bracing spirit of renewal, of a rededication to excellence and innovation was symbolized by announcement of the M-Bar on the Canadian stage. It coincided with the Bank’s 150th anniversary, tying the acknowledgment of the past with the vision of the future.

“Within the Bank, as well as to the public eye,” one internal Bank document suggested, “here is the symbol of an organization in which originality is welcome, staffed by people eager to provide the best and broadest service to individuals and to all enterprises regardless of size and degree.”

Designer Clair Stewart once said that there were two things that made a corporate logo last: “it has to be designed well, and the company must be absolutely convinced that the design that’s being presented to them is just the right one for them.” In the case of the M-Bar, half a century of continuous and proud use has made it one of the most evocative and well-recognized symbols in Canadian enterprise.


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