So important was learning that as an 18-year-old he left his home country and enrolled at Harvard, then Oxford, twice, once for a masters and back a few years later for a PhD. One don who taught Carney still has one of his essays tucked away in a filing cabinet: because he rated it so highly, he took a photocopy. One of the examiners of Carney's doctoral thesis in 1995 was John Vickers (now Sir), who ran the Independent Commission on Banking. Little can he have imagined that less than 20 years later he would be competing against – and losing out to – this promising student for the job of governor of the Bank of England.
The earning years were – naturally – at Goldman Sachs, where he was marked out as one of the very highest flyers while working in London, Tokyo and New York. The switch to public service – and the public profile that brings – came with a move into central banking, first as deputy and then as governor of the Bank of Canada, in a spell that included the global financial collapse.
Canada came through the turmoil in far better shape than many and Carney's role during the crisis, and as chairman of the international Financial Stability Board, the central bankers' club which is rewriting the rules of banking in the wake of the meltdown, marked him out, according to Osborne, as "the outstanding central banker of his generation".
Serving, however, has not put an end to Carney's earning power. Using the hard-nosed negotiating skills learned on Wall Street, he secured a pay package to move to London of £874,000, including a £10,000-a-month housing allowance – nearly three times the salary of outgoing Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King.
On the first day in his new job, 1 July, which happens to be Canada Day, Carney will arrive in a very different workplace from the one he has just left. In the 70s-era glass and slate foyer of the Bank of Canada, opposite Ottawa's green-roofed mock baronial parliament buildings, instead of the august and gloomy hush that greets visitors to the Bank of England, there is a cheerful buzz as staff arrive back from lunch clutching giant coffee cups, joshing and planning their weekends. Some are even wearing trainers or jeans, unheard of in the hallowed corridors of the Bank, where new arrivals are detained at the door by pink jacketed, top-hatted flunkies. The pavements outside in Ottawa are dotted with tourists, instead of the sharp-elbowed City workers of the Square Mile.
It's not just the BoC's relative youthfulness – at 78 a mere stripling next to the 318 years of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street – that explains the lack of haughtiness here. Close observers of Carney's five years in charge (it was meant to be seven, until Osborne made him an offer he couldn't refuse), say his leadership style has been instrumental in transforming its culture.
One of Carney's first acts when he arrived, in the teeth of the worldwide financial crisis in February 2008, was to insist that senior staff were issued with Blackberrys – anathema to his predecessor, David Dodge. Staff soon realised why: even the lowliest number-cruncher could expect to receive sudden email requests for information or analysis. "He just collapsed the hierarchy," one insider recalls.
Surprise candidates who clinch top jobs are often said to have "come from nowhere" but for the driven 48-year-old, it is almost true. Fort Smith, where Carney spent the first six years of his life, is a tiny town of fewer than 2,500 people, way up in Canada's north-west, more than 600 miles from the nearest city, Edmonton.
He may have taken his first degree at Harvard, his doctorate at Oxford, and acquired the carefully-groomed air of a Goldman Sachs banker, but friends say his formative years in the back of beyond still matter. "His roots govern his perspective of the little guy, of the common person. Is he urbane? Yes. Is he urban? Yes and no," says Mel Cappe, professor of public policy at the University of Toronto, and a former secretary of cabinet, who knows Carney well.
The family (his parents were teachers) moved to Edmonton, in oil-rich Alberta, where Carney attended the Catholic St Francis Xavier high school. He is still a fan of the local hockey team (don't say "ice hockey"), the Edmonton Oilers. Westerners, as people from this part of Canada are known, pride themselves on being self-reliant outsiders. When the federal government made a grab for a larger share of the region's oil revenues during Carney's teenage years, in a bid to cap prices for energy users across Canada after the Middle East oil crisis, a favourite local bumper-sticker read, "Let Those Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark".
Perhaps it is a residual memory of this deep suspicion of federal interference that has encouraged Carney to make communicating with the public central to his job. Indeed, so keen is he on making himself understood in England that he is bringing his own press spokesman with him from Ottawa.
As governor of the Bank of Canada, Carney has travelled far and wide across the vast country to try to justify his policies to ordinary people – and observers say this ability to explain comes from that upbringing out west. "He's very good at making monetary policy make sense for citizens," says Scott Brison, economic spokesman for the Liberal party – known as "finance critic" – and , a personal friend of Carney's.
A sojourn in Brison's cottage in Nova Scotia fuelled speculation that Carney might be flirting with a move into politics – something many believe is still likely, since he has made clear he only wants to stay in England for five years, instead of serving a full eight-year term.
"I think he definitely took a look at whether he wanted to take a run at being the leader of a political party, and maybe the prime minister, and I don't think you can rule out political aspirations of some kind in the future," says Ted Carmichael, managing director for strategy at the giant Canadian pension fund OMERS, and a former chief Canadian economist for JP Morgan.
Carney arrived at the Bank of Canada as a relative unknown. "He kind of came out of the blue here. There was this vacancy at the Bank of Canada, and this guy nobody had ever heard of got it," says Carmichael. It came about after he had been spotted by Dodge. There was a plan to privatise Ontario's hydroelectric power generator, Hydro One, and Goldman Sachs had sent its savviest, most impressive young Canadian up to Toronto to try to clinch the deal. The privatisation never came off, but Carney had made his mark in the minds of the public officials who met him.
When the deputy governorship of the Bank came up in 2003, he applied, and got the job. Soon afterwards, he moved over to the finance department, the equivalent of the Treasury, to become the brightest of its bright young men.
Peter DeVries, a long-time senior civil servant who saw him at close quarters at that time, recalls: "I guess when he first arrived, a lot of us were just taken aback by his brilliance. He became the go-to guy when people were looking for a solution. You would have 20 people in the boardroom and everyone would wait for him to clear his throat."
That picture is echoed repeatedly in Canada's close-knit policymaking circles, where Carney is proudly, and affectionately, referred to as a "rock star".
"There are few rooms he's going to walk into where he's not the smartest guy in it," says Don McCutchan, a former senior finance department official, now at Toronto law firm Gowlings. "Mark Carney is a very strong personality: he tends to dominate a room," agrees Carmichael.
By the time Dodge's term was nearing an end, in early 2008, few in the financial markets had any illusions that the turmoil in financial market, that had already been raging for months, would get far worse. The job was widely expected to go to a senior insider, Paul Jenkins. But crucially, Carney was regarded as possessing the financial nous that would be necessary as the shockwaves from the US sub-prime crash spread.
Dodge had already cut interest rates once before he stepped down, but during Carney's first few months in office, he slashed them to record lows, and pumped unprecedented liquidity into the financial system to stabilise the banking sector. Helped by its massive oil and gas resources, Canada suffered a short, shallower recession, instead of the deep downturn that is still hobbling most major economies.
Paul Martin, the Liberal finance minister from 1993 to 2002, and later prime minister, says: "He was a very strong central bank governor. He had a lot of experience, he had the skills, and he was an excellent communicator."
Throughout the downturn and the recovery, Carney has used communication aggressively in a bid to make monetary policy more effective. In 2009, just as the economy started to recover and markets and mortgage-borrowers feared that rates were about to rise, he committed the Bank to keeping them low for another 12 months – barring a surge in inflation.
Carney has since been a strong advocate of such "forward guidance", as a way of preventing borrowing costs across the economy from shooting up as investors bet on a rate rise. Osborne, presumably under the influence of Carney, has offered the Bank of England the opportunity of adopting the same approach.
"I think it helps," says Craig Wright, chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada. "At a minimum it sends signals to the markets that the Bank's not going to turn on every wiggle in the data. It also sends a message to consumers and businesses. I think that makes sense in the UK environment."
As well as using new tools in monetary policy, Brison says Carney's ability to stand toe to toe with bankers has been critical. "Mark has the economic background; but also he has personal understanding of the industry. He has peer-to-peer credibility with some of the top bankers in the world. There's a language; there's a cadence."
In his international role, as chairman of the G20's Financial Stability Board, he has not only been a strong advocate of tighter regulation, but notched up a furious shouting match with JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon. Perhaps not surprisingly, given how fast he has risen, Carney has a steely side: several people remembered being warned off disagreeing with him. And he had that life-plan from a relatively early age. "I have heard him say 'learn, earn, serve,'" says Brison. "He is someone who chooses public service: he is not a materialistic guy."
In other words, the young Carney set himself the deliberate aim of making big money early in his career, so that he could go into public service later. That's an idea corroborated by his doctoral supervisor, Margaret Meyer, who recalls that as a postgraduate student at Nuffield College, Oxford – after his first stint at Goldman Sachs – he already had a plan to take up a policy role. Like many who came across the young Carney, Meyer remembers being impressed. "What really distinguished Mark Carney from other students was his intellectual versatility and the rapidity with which he was able to get up to speed with new approaches and new techniques. He has a very agile mind".
Carney's British-born wife, Diana, an economist whom he met at Oxford, is also a policy wonk. She worked at the Department for International Development and the Overseas Development Institute thinktank before moving to Canada. More recently, she has worked at the progressive thinktank Canada 2020, speaking out on political issues such as rising income inequality.
The Carneys have four young girls, and while many acquaintances seem to rack their brains when asked what the smartest guy in the room he does for fun ("he'll have a pint and a plate of nachos like the rest of us" was the best one colleague came up with; an Ottawa neighbour mentioned super-fast jogging), he is by all accounts an enthusiastic dad. One fellow member of the Five Lakes Fishing Club, in the wilderness of the Gatineau Hills outside the capital, says affectionately that his most vivid picture of the central bank governor is of him "standing there in his swimming trunks, holding up his three-year-old daughter … Mark and his women".
It's hard to imagine someone with so much evident self-confidence managing to remain quite so well liked as Carney is by the easy-going Canadians; but Ed Clark, chief executive of TD, one of Canada's largest banks, who knows him well, says he can do self-effacing if he needs to. "He's going to get the lie of the land, he's going to listen to people, he's going to have to figure out what's politically possible. You'll be surprised how quickly he comes out and says, 'I'm not God: I'm an above-average guy.'"
• This article was amended on 13 June to correct the spelling of Gatineau Hills and the reference to the Liberal party being the opposition. They are currently the third largest party
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