Budget 2024

April 16 budget must prioritize growth 

Today I’m speaking with Dean Connor, President and CEO of Sun Life Financial.

Sun Life is one of the world’s top insurance companies, and Dean is one of Canada’s most decorated CEOs. He was Ivey Business Leader of the Year in 2018, CEO of the Year in 2017, and Top New CEO in 2014. But back when he was still a young man, Dean’s career path wasn’t exactly obvious.

In this episode, we’ll hear how a much-loved hobby very nearly led him in a different direction.We’ll also find out about the time he learned not to hide his emotions. And why it’s so important for Canadians to match the faster “clock speed” of business in the United States and Asia.

The transcript can be found here. Please note that the transcript is unedited.

Goldy Hyder:

Welcome to Speaking of Business, conversations with Canadian innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. I’m Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada. Today I’m speaking with Dean Connor, president and CEO of Sun Life Financial.

Goldy Hyder:

Sun Life is one of the world’s top insurance companies and Dean is one of Canada’s most decorated CEOs. He was Ivey Business Leader of the Year in 2018, CEO of the year in 2017, and Top New CEO in 2014. But back when he was still a young man, Dean’s career path wasn’t exactly obvious. In this episode, we’ll hear how a much loved hobby very nearly led him in a different direction. We’ll also find out about the time he learned not to hide his emotions, and why it’s so important for Canadians to match the faster clock speed of business in the United States and Asia. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Goldy Hyder:

Welcome to the podcast Dean.

Dean Connor:

Thanks Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:

Delighted to have you here. Now look, there’s something I think we need to get out of the way right off the top. You are an actuary, correct?

Dean Connor:

That’s correct.

Goldy Hyder:

Now, I come from a PR background and actuaries, I have to admit, have a bit of an image problem. Would you agree with that?

Dean Connor:

Oh yeah, I would agree with that.

Goldy Hyder:

I mean, there’s an old joke, right? That actuaries are accountants who couldn’t stand the excitement.

Dean Connor:

Yeah. There’s all kinds of jokes about actuaries. One I like is, “What’s the difference between an introverted actuary and an extroverted actuary? The extrovert looks at your shoe laces when he talks to you.”

Goldy Hyder:

We’re off to a great start ladies and gentleman. Who says actuaries aren’t exciting? Now look, you are a fellow of the Society of Actuaries. You’re a member of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, and of course you lead one of the world’s largest financial services companies in Sun Life. But what I really want to know, and I need you to listen to this here for a bit, what the heck is all of this about?

Dean Connor:

Wow. Oh my gosh, there are no secrets are there?

Goldy Hyder:

Welcome to the internet Dean. I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it, but our research teams go deep. There you are on YouTube jamming in a band called The Binder Brothers. Tell us all about that.

Dean Connor:

Well, believe it or not, I’ve been in this band since high school and we’ve been playing together since the age of 16 and played all over the place. Rock and roll and blues, and I play lead guitar in the band, and I sing back up vocals, although I swear I think the other guys have my mic completely turned off.

Goldy Hyder:

You were in this high school band as you were saying, did you ever think about making music your career, given how good you’re at it and how much you seem to enjoy it?

Dean Connor:

It’s funny you ask that. After first year of university I was bored and I said to my parents, “I’ve decided I’m not going back to university. I’m going to join a rock band.” And so I spent that summer auditioning with rock bands in Toronto, and at the end of the summer I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is the dopiest group of people I’ve ever met. I’m going to go back to second year of university.” So that’s what happened.

Goldy Hyder:

But a couple of these guys if I’m not mistaken, are full-time professional musicians.

Dean Connor:

Well, the other guys in the band are, they’ve been lifelong friends. They’re very accomplished individuals, they’re professional musicians. One guy teaches at a university, one guy’s a former CEO. So no, it’s a great group. And we still play, we still play about four gigs a year.

Goldy Hyder:

I’ve got to admit if I hadn’t seen it, knowing you, I wouldn’t have believed it to tell you the truth. And you talk a little bit in your career as to how some of the advice you were given was that you were just too much of an introvert, that you needed to express yourself more. Do you see the irony in that given how you’re performing on stage?

Dean Connor:

Yeah, I have to say, the performing on stage from a young age I found extremely helpful in the business setting in terms of standing up in front of groups of people, clients and employees and others, shareholders now, and talking with some confidence about whatever I was talking about. Those early days on stage really helped that side of it.

Goldy Hyder:

Now you mentioned university, where after high school, you went off to the University of Western Ontario to study applied math, but at some point you switched your major to business. Do you remember why you made that switch?

Dean Connor:

Yeah, that was interesting. I got to the end of second year honors applied math. I just, I loved the program, and the head of the department called me and he said, “Good news, you’re the only person at the University of Western Ontario going into third year honors applied math, and you have the choice of any professor you want, any courses you want, any scheduling,” and so on.

Dean Connor:

And so, my first reaction was I was thrilled. Of course my second reaction was, “Where did everybody go?” And I was kind of the last person to figure out that there were no jobs for math grads back then, at least at that time. So, I switched into the business school.

Goldy Hyder:

Now, that turned out pretty well because after university you went on to work for Mercer as a pension consultant. And in some ways I guess it could be said you were following in your father’s footsteps.

Dean Connor:

Yeah, it’s interesting. My dad worked at Stelco in Hamilton his whole career after World War II. He had been a turret gunner in bombers in World War II. Somehow survived that, ended up working at Stelco and ended up in pensions and benefits, ultimately the VP of comp and benefits at Stelco. So, growing up at the Connor household, he kind of threw me the actuarial report on the Canada pension plan when I was 12 years old. And that’s the kind of stuff we talked about. A little odd, don’t you think?

Goldy Hyder:

Well, it turned out pretty well, so it can’t be that odd after all. Now tell me, what did you learn though during those years? Those early years at Mercer.

Dean Connor:

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I remember my first client meeting. I’d only been at the firm for four months and I was extremely nervous. I was meeting with the treasurer of this company to talk about some aspect of tax law around pensions and I had done a lot of research. I’d kind of read up on it, talked to people, and I came out of that meeting thinking, “Wow, I know more than that guy knows.”

Dean Connor:

And what I concluded from that is if I apply myself and I work hard and I really understand it so well that I can explain it to somebody else, I could actually learn a lot of stuff very quickly and I could make myself useful.

Goldy Hyder:

What would your advice be to somebody else sitting in your position today thinking about, “What do I do with my life?” And how do they get into the path that you chose?

Dean Connor:

My advice to our kids when they were in their teens, and I wish somebody had said this to me back then, was, “Your number one job is to open doors.” From age 16 to 25 say, all you got to think about is opening doors. And the way you open those doors is the summer jobs you get, the marks you get at school, the courses you take, the volunteer groups you get involved with. The travel experiences, the networks of friends. Because, you don’t really know what you want to do when you finish school. So open as many doors as you can and if you do that, good things will happen.

Goldy Hyder:

Let me return now to your career. You leave Mercer after 28 years there all because one day you got a call from Don Stewart who was the then CEO of Sun Life. Do you recall what he said to you on that call?

Dean Connor:

Well, he said, “Time to come back to Canada,” and, “Why don’t you come and join us at Sun Life?” I had known Don years earlier and stayed in touch. He was a mentor in many ways, and I had and have a lot of respect for Don and others like Ron Osborne, who was the chairman of the company at the time. So, I took that call and I took the meeting and I was very interested in hearing what he had to say.

Goldy Hyder:

That notion of coming back to Canada, how appealing was that to you?

Dean Connor:

It was really appealing. I mean, I … By the way, another piece of advice I would give young people is, at some point in your career, find a way to work outside of Canada. It was the best thing I did. I wish I had done it earlier in my career. I learned more. I was only in New York City for two years, but I learned more in that two year period than I probably learned in the four years prior to that.

Dean Connor:

There’s a hum and a buzz and a click to the business environment in the United States, in Asia. I find that it speeds you up, it revs up your clock speed. And frankly more Canadian leaders need that in their veins. But, the idea of coming back to Canada and making a contribution to Canada was appealing to me.

Goldy Hyder:

But there’s something you said in there that our listeners I think should be mindful of, and that is that your experiences outside of Canada seem to me at a higher level in terms of the competitive nature of the world. Do you think Canadians take enough risk?

Dean Connor:

No, I think we need to take more risks, both with our careers and with our businesses. And that’s again one of the things you observe when you go to the US, when you go to Asia. You see people starting businesses trying things on a scale that we don’t see here in Canada.

Goldy Hyder:

And are you able to bring that with you or does the society bring you back to where it’s at, which is sort of a much more comfortable pace?

Dean Connor:

No, you bring it with you and I don’t think you ever get it out of your blood. And in fact, I think it’s one of the reasons I became the CEO is there was a sense of urgency, this sense that the clock is speeding by and that you just got to get things done and you’ve got to paint with some bolder strokes and take more risks, and I think that never leaves you. And I think Canada needs more of that, frankly.

Goldy Hyder:

I’m being Canadian right now by not just spitting it right out, which is we are accused of being rather comfortable and a bit complacent to some extent. These were your words. There’s a buzz, there’s a hum, there’s a rhythm. And it seems to me that we’re being measured against that as Canada. And you now as the CEO of Sun Life are certainly seeing a lot more in terms of the rise of Asia. Let’s talk a little bit about that. What has your experience been since you’ve really gone all in in Asia?

Dean Connor:

Well, we went to Asia originally, Sun Life went to Asia in 1892 starting in Hong Kong, and then Philippines in 1895, and India and 1898, and so on. But 10 years ago, Asia was only 7% of our net income and today it’s 18% on the way to becoming 25% and more. Our experience in Asia has been just unbelievably rewarding, exhilarating, frustrating. Nothing is a straight line from A to B.

Dean Connor:

You see all the geopolitical change that’s going on in the world and in Asia and it requires incredible institutional fortitude and persistency to succeed there. But you know what? Canadian firms are welcome in Asia. We have a great reputation and Sun Life frankly has benefited from that.

Goldy Hyder:

What can big business do to help the small and medium enterprises that form up the heart and soul and the guts of Canada to help them diversify? What role do you see big business playing in that?

Dean Connor:

Well, I think there’s first of all a mentorship role. I’ve spoken to leaders of small, midsize businesses about doing business in Asia, making contacts and referrals, and making sure they’re aware. Frankly, there’s a pretty good government of Canada network, whether it’s BDC or others who can help and actually do a pretty darn good job helping Canadian business. And in many cases Canadian businesses just aren’t even aware of those resources are there. So I think big business can help mentor these small midsize companies through contacts, relationships, encouragement, because there’s a whole persistence and navigation element to this as well.

Goldy Hyder:

You would agree that there’s a need though, we really do need to put more eggs in other baskets.

Dean Connor:

Yeah, absolutely. We need to diversify. And Asia for example, Asia needs what Canada has to offer. China is going to need a lot more food. One of the reasons for the Belt and Road Initiative is to build the conveyor belts to bring food to China. Weed can be a huge, much bigger supplier to China, much bigger supplier to India and other parts for food.

Dean Connor:

The interesting thing is we actually have a competitive advantage because we have so many Canadians who were either born in those countries and came to Canada and could go back, or kids of those people. In fact, some of our best talent, we’ve moved some Canadians. For example, a Vietnamese actuary born in Vietnam, grew up in Canada, moved him back to Vietnam to help start our business there. That’s a skill set that Canada has that is a competitive advantage to go compete in Asia.

Goldy Hyder:

Well you’re certainly taking advantage of that at Sun Life, and have been leading the way a long ways. But the other thing that you’ve had to sort of deal with in addition to the diversification, and it’s not just you, but the issue of digital transformation, how has Sun Life responded to so-called disruption, if you will, under your leadership?

Dean Connor:

Well, we’ve tried to be disruptors to ourselves and to the industry. It starts with simply digitizing all of our existing processes for clients. So, filing a health claim, you now take a photo of it and just submit it on your smart phone through to having video chats with your advisor, to having all of your policy information filled out online and then sent to you digitally. Basically getting rid of all the paper. We’re not at end of job on that, but we’ve gotten rid of a ton of paper.

Dean Connor:

The second part of our digital strategy Goldy, is about being more personalized, predictive and proactive. So for example, in Canada we’ve rolled out Ella, she’s our digital bot. Think of Ella kind of looking over your shoulder and saying, “Hey Dean, your 21-year-old is about to lose benefits coverage through your work. Click here to cover her for out of country medical.” Or, “Hey Goldy, congratulations on getting married. You should have a look at your life insurance and for the next 30 days you can buy it without medical evidence,” something like that.

Dean Connor:

Anyway, we rolled out thousands of these nudges now and that is the future. Is that using data predictive models to make it simple for people to nudge people to access these benefits and insurance coverages and savings that they need and to try to demystify it for them.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, I’d heard it once said that all businesses are on their way to becoming technology companies or data companies. But of course this opens the issue on privacy, transparency, and all the things that people, they check off those boxes, I agree on everything without realizing what it is that they agreed to. How important of this is an issue, not just to Sun Life, but important for society to get that data issue, the privacy issue right?

Dean Connor:

Goldy, I think this is a huge issue for society. If I think about it from the business standpoint, a hundred years ago, brand for an insurance company was all about, “Will you be here to pay my claims? Can I trust you 50 years from now that you’ll be here to pay my claim?” So, the way that manifested was we built these beautiful big buildings of granite and marble and say, “Yes, we’ll be here a hundred years.”

Dean Connor:

Today, I think brand is increasingly about what are you doing with my data, and are you using it for me or are you using it against me? And that’s not unique to insurance companies. So, at a time when trust in institutions is ebbing low, I think we have to raise our game on data governance. We have to come out, frankly ahead of regulators. If we wait until governments tell us what it means to treat a client’s data fairly, we’ve failed.

Dean Connor:

We have to get out ahead of it. We have to make our own declarations about, are we going to sell client data? What choices do our clients have around how we use their data? How can we be more transparent with them? And how do we get away from, you alluded to it, that 10 thousand word approval thing and people just scroll down and hit accept. So there’s a lot of work to do here.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, that’s a subject that I think we could get into. But I want to move on to another topic here that we cover regularly in the podcast, and that is the issue of leadership. I want to talk about what it means to be a leader, what you learned about being a leader. Just take us through your initial thoughts. When I say leadership, what do you think of?

Dean Connor:

Well, I think of first of all, setting a vision, charting a course for the business. Setting ambitions for the business that usually go beyond what people are comfortable with. It’s about developing talents and raising the bar on talent. We have a mantra at Sun Life that every single person we hire should increase the average in terms of the talent pool. So, what is leadership about? It’s about setting ambitions like that. Developing talent, developing strategy, holding people accountable. There’s a drumbeat of progress and ambition and improvement that comes from the top, has to come from the top. It’s usually a faster pace than the organization would otherwise settle in for.

Goldy Hyder:

How have you, I guess specifically, evolved as a leader given some of the things that you’ve had to experience? The advancement of technology, that diversification. How did you change as a leader?

Dean Connor:

Goldy, I’ve found that I have changed what I read. I have changed where I spend my time, who I go talk to. It’s easy to go talk to the same people you know, the same CEOs you know. Frankly, I found that a really great aspect of the business council, expanding the membership to include entrepreneurs, new business leaders. I find myself making a path to them at the meetings. So, learning from new people, learning new things from new people is part of it.

Dean Connor:

I think another aspect of leadership has been around again, speed and setting bigger ambitions. The more confidence you get that you can execute, the next time you chart the next step up. I found myself plotting bigger steps, thinking this is achievable. The language we’re using at Sun Life is it’s ambitious but achievable. The other thing, last common in this is the language. I found myself thinking a lot more about language. The words we use to describe goals or performance, we talk about hits and misses in the company. We don’t talk about successes and failures. It turns out that those words, “Hits and misses,” have fundamentally changed the way we talk about performance in the company.

Goldy Hyder:

Yeah, so labels matter. Communications matters.

Dean Connor:

Yes.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, you mentioned just in passing there that you’ve changed what you read. So let me ask you, what do you read?

Dean Connor:

I kind of read everything. I read history books, I read fiction, I read all the business stuff. I read murder novels, murder mysteries. Right now I’m reading a book on the University of Washington 1933 rowing crew that went to the Olympics in 1936. I read a lot of different things.

Goldy Hyder:

You also mentioned you talk to different people. Do you mean within the company? Outside the company? How has your behavior changed?

Dean Connor:

Yeah, I found that especially as I get a little older, it’s important to go talk to younger people because [crosstalk] they don’t show up in my executive committee meetings every week, so I’ve met some fantastic young people through the United Way, as an example. I had the privilege of chairing that campaign in 2017 and being involved with that group for a while.

Dean Connor:

So there’s a whole crew of people that I connect with through that. That’s been important. I find that within the company having coffee chats and just spending time with next generation, finding out what they’re thinking about, what ideas they’ve got for the business, how they’re thinking about issues like this data point that you raised. It’s really important to get those perspectives

Goldy Hyder:

And a lot of that is about disruption, isn’t it? It’s trying to keep track and keep on top of what’s coming.

Dean Connor:

It is, and one of the great things about being in Asia, by the way, is every time I go somewhere in Asia, particularly China, you go visit Tencent, and Baidu, and Ping An, and people like that who are leading disruption in financial services globally. Go talk to the people who are the most likely disruptors. Same with Silicon Valley, but in our industry, the biggest disruptors are coming from Asia. Thank goodness we’re doing business there because it gives us a front row seat and the ability to talk to them, and in some cases we partner with them.

Goldy Hyder:

Dean, one of the things that comes up when we talk about leadership, and we discussed this earlier in the podcast with you, the notion of being an introvert versus an extrovert. I read somewhere that people had told you initially that you are, and I quote, “Too even keel,” that you didn’t show your emotions enough. Tell us what that felt like when someone said that to you?

Dean Connor:

Yeah, that was interesting. That was one of those great a-ha moments when somebody says something to you and you go, “Wow, I had no idea. But now that you say it, it completely makes sense.” And, I had prided myself on being kind of even keeled and unflappable, and the feedback I got was, “Gee, people don’t know when you’re mad, people don’t know when you’re happy, you’re just too even keeled.”

Dean Connor:

So, now people know what I’m mad now people know what I’m happy, but it’s a pretty important point actually. And the good news is somebody told that to me relatively early in my career. But it’s a point I have to keep coming back to because I’m not … My nature is pretty steady and I’m neither an introvert nor an extrovert on the scales, but I have to remember to let my flag fly.

Goldy Hyder:

Well you had made a statement on communications that we saw in, I think it was in an article that said, “You’ve got to listen so hard your head hurts at the end of the meeting.” And I’ve seen that in you. I mean, you are a terrific listener. How important is that to leadership?

Dean Connor:

By the way, my wife would not agree with that statement.

Goldy Hyder:

[crosstalk] I’m not sure any of our wives would Dean. You’re not alone my friend, you’re not alone.

Dean Connor:

Oh my gosh. Something I’m working on. But it is so important, and listening of course isn’t just about listening in the moment. It’s listening for intent and motivation and spending the time to really try to understand what’s driving the person’s comment and reflect on that. And especially if there’s differences of opinions and listening so hard that your head does hurt. I mean it’s interesting to me that I go through two days of board meetings and an earnings call and I am brain dead at the end of that two and a half days.

Dean Connor:

Why is that? It’s because I’m listening so hard in those meetings to try to pick up every nuance. Every time I do that, it’s a reminder that I’m not listening hard enough the other so many days of the month. So, I think we all need to listen harder.

Goldy Hyder:

One of the things that you’ve talked about is again, this notion of speed and I want to come back to that because when we were talking about the importance of communication, you had mentioned getting close to clients and taking risks and getting international experience. Well, you’ve done that. The clock speed, you call it the clock speed, is way faster in other parts of the world, particularly the US than in Canada. What can we do about that?

Dean Connor:

Well, I think first of all, getting people as they’re building their careers to at some point step outside of Canada and go to a market like the US or Asia that has a higher clock speed. I think that’s an essential ingredient. Even if you only do it for two years, you will come back changed. Second, I think we need to change our business schools and I’ve talked to the few business deans that I know. I think we need to change the way we’re teaching the next generation, which is there’s a whole element of how do you get things done in business and enterprise and organizations that isn’t taught in business school or isn’t taught in university. And yet, the speed at which you can get things done depends on all kinds of techniques and you can teach them how to get things done. So I think we need to go back to our curriculum in universities. How do you get things done?

Dean Connor:

I think there’s another thing, and I’d like to just comment on the fantastic work being done by the business council on the economic agenda for Canada. I think an important part of that Goldy, needs to touch on Canadians competitiveness, Canada’s competitiveness, and the need for speed and the need for urgency and taking risks. I’m sure that’ll come through in that work.

Goldy Hyder:

Well we thank you for that. But I want to confirm to our listeners that was an unprompted commercial, but we appreciate it. There’s a lot to do for the country and as you just said, we talk about it more from the government side, but you’ve just raised the interesting point around that business schools and others also need to change. Do you think, candidly, are we moving fast enough to secure Canada’s place in the global economy?

Dean Connor:

No, I don’t think we are. It’s interesting, you look at our GDP growth and we feel good about it relative to the G7. But, if you said per capita GDP growth, we’re not moving fast enough. In fact, we’re near the bottom. So, our GDP has been moving ahead, but it’s because of immigration, and that doesn’t help the average person. My advice to the government is we need to set goals for the country that are ambitious but achievable. Goals, not just for economic performance, but Canada’s role in the world. And I think we need to actually have politicians and civil servants who line up behind those goals and the corporate sector will line up behind those goals as well.

Goldy Hyder:

Some have suggested that when you look at other countries from Germany to Japan to Korea, most of whom, if not all of them have really nothing in the ground and they’ve had to do it all with everything above the ground. That it literally took crisis after crisis before they got their act together and actually figured out an industrial policy. Well that moment’s never really come in Canada. We’ve never really had the urgency or the need to figure it out because we’ve been able to muddle along. Do you fear that that may be what it takes?

Dean Connor:

Yes, I fear that. And then the other question is then how do you avoid waiting for that to happen? How do you actually-

Goldy Hyder:

Exactly.

Dean Connor:

… turbocharge that ahead of that event. But you’ll remember back, it took Canada’s bond rating to get downgraded significantly before we got our fiscal house in order. And that was a crisis. Canada was a banana republic, I think was the headline in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. So, we mustn’t let that happen. We’ve got to find a way to create that sense of urgency and we need to come back to explain to Canadians why that actually matters to them.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, speaking of some of the issues that individual Canadians care about, and we’ve talked a lot about some of the angst that people are feeling and the disruption and transition in terms of workforce, but a couple of things that jump out from your business is the issue of climate change. I noticed you had penned an op-ed with Charles Brindamour, CEO of Intact, and a fellow council member. And also of course, healthcare. What would you do about some of those really big social issues?

Dean Connor:

Yeah, those are tough issues and I don’t pretend to have a silver bullet. I think hardening critical infrastructure in a world of future climate change is just one part of the puzzle, so we’re not building on flood Plains. We keep repeating those same mistakes. We need to change those things. We need to improve infrastructure investments. We need to change the rules to make it easier for insurance companies to invest in infrastructure because we’ve got billions of dollars that we would be keen to allocate to infrastructure. And there’s some capital rules that kind of get in the way of doing that efficiently.

Dean Connor:

I think there are some basic things that we need to do in that area. I think in the healthcare area, a really critical element is data and electronic health records. We are in a poor state across the country in terms of electronic health records. We need to get to that place. And with that, all kinds of things are possible, including a much more efficient delivery of healthcare. The amount of time Canadians spend waiting for medical services, if you looked at the toll on productivity, it’s huge. And a bunch of that can be changed with data and modern technology. So, I think those are a few thoughts, but I don’t pretend to have all the silver bullets.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, I certainly put you on the spot. Lots of people who’ve struggled with dealing with these issues, but nonetheless helpful advice on your part. Dean, you mentioned philanthropy earlier in the podcast being really important to you and also your wife, Maris. You funded several bursaries for students at her alma mater, the University of Guelph. You have been the chair of a multiyear campaign. You’ve been a part of the United Way. What drives you? How did you get involved in that?

Dean Connor:

Well, Goldy I don’t think I’m much different than other people, especially CEOs. I mean I have been just struck by the generosity of people in our communities, not just business people, professionals of all walks of life. Their generosity. I saw that as I mentioned firsthand with the United Way campaign. So, we’re no different and we have an obligation in our family to give back to the communities in which we live and work, and to help those communities. Not just with money, but with time, which is even more precious than money in many ways.

Dean Connor:

So, we all do it differently, but people in our family, we try to give back to the communities in which we live and work. I don’t think we’re different frankly, than most people, and there’s many who do more than we do. It is inspiring though when you see it up close, and you see how many people help out. There’s always a need for more, but it’s inspiring.

Goldy Hyder:

I couldn’t agree with you more. I mean, I think we put a lot of attention on the big campaigns and the big numbers and the big results, but the reality is that notion of caring and sharing is frankly in the blood of every Canadian I’ve ever met. There is a concern and a desire to help those who can’t help themselves. One of the big campaigns that you were a part of and you were a multiyear campaign and you were the chair of it, was to raise $100 million for the Toronto Rehab Foundation. How did you get involved in that specific campaign?

Dean Connor:

Well, that’s an amazing institution. It’s part of University Health Network in Toronto, and I’m on the board of UHN. And, Toronto Rehab is kind of the little brother or sister because there’s Toronto General, Toronto Western, and Princess Margaret, which are all very well known, and then Toronto Rehab. Toronto Rehab is the largest rehab research institution in the world. So research around, how do you get people back walking faster after hip surgery, how do you prevent falls, amazing rehab research operation as well as clinical.

Dean Connor:

It’s kind of like the little sister or brother that never had a lot of money and they asked me to chair this campaign as you said, $100 million multiyear campaign and we achieved that 2017. And again, very rewarding, and like most of those things, you get a lot more out of it then you put into it.

Goldy Hyder:

Well this has been fantastic. Let’s move into a few short questions. How do you learn?

Dean Connor:

By reading and talking to people.

Goldy Hyder:

And how do you relax? I mean it’s obvious music is at this core of that. What else do you do to relax?

Dean Connor:

I cycle, got a road bike, I play golf, play the guitar, read, hang out with my family, my new grandson. All of those things.

Goldy Hyder:

Now, we never did ask what your musical tastes are. What do you listen to?

Dean Connor:

I listened to everything. I play classical guitar as well. So, I listen to classical guitar, classical music, listen to rock and roll, a little bit of jazz, country and western, a little bit of country western. I like everything.

Goldy Hyder:

And then, what’s keeping you up these days?

Dean Connor:

What’s keeping me up? China. Growth in China. We have fantastic opportunities in China. It’s also a gigantic complicated country with lots of competitors. So, I’m trying to figure out how do we accelerate our growth there. We’re spending a lot of time on that.

Goldy Hyder:

What do you do to manage work-life balance?

Dean Connor:

I sort of keep a regular set of hours, and I make sure I’ve got a bit of a break on weekends. Most of my trips to Asia I leave on a Saturday or a Sunday, but I try to pace those six trips a year or something like that. The other thing I do is I get physical exercise. So, if I’m in Toronto, I jump on the bike, the stationary, the spin bike, when I get home pretty well every night. And then I get on the bike Saturday and Sunday. Getting physical exercise is a hugely important part of that balance.

Goldy Hyder:

Are you watching TV or listening to tunes at that time?

Dean Connor:

Watching TV. Usually catching up with Netflix with my wife.

Goldy Hyder:

Now, talk a little bit if you can, about where you get your energy from. I mean, I’ve seen you on the road. You’re a road warrior. I can’t even imagine how many miles you get in a year, but how do you do it?

Dean Connor:

It’s interesting. You’re getting on a plane on a Saturday morning to go to Mumbai, and I’m thinking about all these people I’m going to meet over the next three days. I’m thinking about the conversations we’re going to have, the opportunities there are there. The talent that’s there, the energy that’s there, I am energized by that. There’s such a buzz and a hum and a click to what’s going on there. Same with the US just … I was in London last week and had a packed agenda. I love getting out and meeting people, talking about business issues, talking to our people. I get a lot of energy from that.

Goldy Hyder:

Any regrets in life?

Dean Connor:

Any regrets in life? Well, I mentioned earlier, I wish I had gone and worked outside of Canada earlier in my career, but you know what Goldy? That’s about it.

Goldy Hyder:

Life’s been good to you eh, Dean?

Dean Connor:

Oh, I’ve been lucky. Life has been good. I’ve been lucky. I would say as I look ahead, there’s a lot of wood to chop at Sun Life, a lot of wood to chop still and looking forward to getting at that.

Goldy Hyder:

Well listen, it’s been great to have you on the podcast. Great to hear about your journey through life. And let me just conclude the podcast with just a word game. Dean, I’m just going to say a word and you’re going to tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Just to warm you up, I’ll ask you a quick question. What is the one word that describes you?

Dean Connor:

Optimistic.

Goldy Hyder:

All right, here we go. Music.

Dean Connor:

Guitar.

Goldy Hyder:

Asia.

Dean Connor:

Opportunity.

Goldy Hyder:

Social media.

Dean Connor:

Opportunity.

Goldy Hyder:

I’m going to have to change the rules of this game one day and stop having people say opportunity to everything. Insurance. Don’t see opportunity.

Dean Connor:

Lifeblood.

Goldy Hyder:

Disruption.

Dean Connor:

Complex.

Goldy Hyder:

Canada.

Dean Connor:

Inspiring.

Goldy Hyder:

Thank you so much for doing this, Dean. It’s been great having you on.

Dean Connor:

Goldy, thank you. What a great opportunity. I really appreciate it.

Goldy Hyder:

Thanks again to Dean Connor for being my guest on this episode of Speaking of Business. Subscribe now for more conversations with Canada’s top innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Search Speaking of Business, wherever you find podcasts, or visit speakingofbiz.ca to join our email list and follow us on social media. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder.