Budget 2024

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Rania Llewellyn spent 26 years working at Scotiabank before making a move she describes as a “big leap and a big change” – becoming President and CEO of Laurentian Bank. And yet she says the hardest part of that transition was joining a new institution in the middle of a pandemic.

The inability to walk through the office and meet people created unique challenges, she says. “Organizations are made of people. You need to be a really good listener to be a good leader.”

In a wide-ranging conversation with Goldy Hyder on the Speaking of Business podcast, Llewellyn discusses how she built a new culture at the Bank despite a remote work environment, and how it contributed to the development of a digital first strategy.

“We flipped the conversation. [Rather than saying] ‘let’s go back to the office and figure out what tasks we do at home,’ it was ‘what is it that we need the office for?’”

Thinking differently and challenging the status quo is something Llewellyn has done throughout her career, because, as she says, “why fit in when you can stand out?”

Listen to the full conversation with Rania Llewellyn, including her experience as an immigrant to Canada and her hopes for the country’s future.

"I love this country. We have an opportunity now of a lifetime to punch above our weight. If you look at making size our advantage, Canada is so well positioned." Rania Llewellyn, Laurentian Bank

Transcript

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. It’s a great pleasure for me to sit down today with Rania Llewellyn, president and CEO of Laurentian Bank. When Rania took on the top job at Laurentian two years ago, she was, and I cannot believe I’m saying this, the first woman to lead a major chartered bank in Canada. But I’m pretty sure she won’t be the last. She’s a trailblazer and this is nothing new for Rania. Her career has been marked by new experiences as an immigrant, as the youngest graduate in her university class, as a former Tim Horton’s cashier, and as someone who worked her way through the ranks in Canadian banking. How have those experiences shaped her as a person and as a leader? Why don’t we find out?

Welcome to the podcast, Rania.

Rania Llewellyn:
Thanks, Goldy. Glad to be here.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, it’s great to see you. I know you a little bit, but our audience doesn’t, so why don’t we just start off with a very quick, what’s your story? Who are you?

Rania Llewellyn:
All right, well, I think you did a little bit of who am I. So I’m currently the president and CEO of Laurentian Bank. I’ve been living in Canada for 30 years, so I’m an immigrant as you are. I’m Middle Eastern by background. I’m married with two kids. And yeah, so that’s just a little bit about me, Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:
How old are the kids?

Rania Llewellyn:
My daughter Sophia is 18 years old. She’s attending the business school at McGill, first year. And my son Zach is 16 years old and he’s at De La Salle finishing up grade 11.

Goldy Hyder:
The fun years.

Rania Llewellyn:
Yes.

Goldy Hyder:
Been there and done that. Let me tell you.

Rania Llewellyn:
Teenagers, yes.

Goldy Hyder:
Yeah, I’ve been there, done that. Look, you mentioned immigrants and as you mentioned, you know and I both have come from somewhere else. You’ve had an interesting mix in your life and I want you to tell the audience about sort of the composition of who you are, but also how the Gulf War played a role in you arriving here in Canada.

Rania Llewellyn:
Yeah, so listen, Goldy, I was born in Kuwait, half Egyptian, half Jordanian. We moved to Egypt in 1987. So we were very fortunate to leave before the Gulf War hit Kuwait, but it still impacted us living in Egypt. And so when the Gulf War happened, I was finishing up my second year at university and we sat down as a family and thought, “You know what? We need to consider our options.” And so we looked at where do we go for good public health, education, brighter future. And we kind of settled on Canada. As we called it back then and continue to call it, it was the Switzerland of North America. And so we applied for immigration and showed up here.

I completed my degree at St. Mary’s University, majoring in marketing and finance. But when I applied for jobs as many immigrants do, my name was not Rania Llewellyn at the time, that’s my married name. I couldn’t even get one interview. And so just like any good new immigrant that comes to Canada, what did I end up doing? I decided to go back and do my MBA, so let’s actually get another degree to add to your resume. But I was fortunate enough that I actually got my first foot in the door as a bank teller at Scotiabank. And at my swearing-in ceremony to be a new Canadian, there was an executive from Scotia at the time and he gave me 10 minutes of his time and that really changed my trajectory at the Bank. So I stopped being a teller on a Saturday and started the commercial officer and development program on a Monday. And I would say the rest is history.

So Canada has been a fantastic country for my sister, my brother and I. We are extremely fortunate and blessed to call it home, but it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for my parents, wasn’t easy for us. And I know it’s not easy for new immigrants that come to this country as well.

Goldy Hyder:
Tell me more about that. Why wasn’t it easy? What was the hardship that you faced?

Rania Llewellyn:
Yeah, so I would say early on, just like I said, I mean I don’t have an accent. I got educated in Canada and I couldn’t even get an interview. So just even handing in my resume. When people see different names, and I still think it happens today, it’s like, “Is it Mr. or is it Mrs?” I still actually have my rejection letters that I’ve saved.

Goldy Hyder:
Oh, I get that one. I get that one.

Rania Llewellyn:
Right?

I know in my rejection letters it was like Mr. Rania Llewellyn, right?

Goldy Hyder:
Yep. Yep.

Rania Llewellyn:
And so what tends to happen is, yeah, it’s just getting that first equal opportunity of getting an interview. I also saw it with my parents. My dad was an engineer with 30 years of experience and he never practiced engineering one day in Canada. And so again, not having relevant Canadian experience, so getting that foot in the door. And then growing in a corporate world where you may look the same but you think differently, you act differently, you communicate differently. And so adapting and adjusting. But early on in your career, it’s really hard for you to understand, “Why am I not getting the same traction? Why am I having challenges from a communication perspective?” And so I would say those are challenges that are faced by many who come from different backgrounds, who think differently. Yeah, those are some of the challenges.

Goldy Hyder:
As I listen to you, I think about if you came today, how much has really changed for what you just experienced? Have we come a long ways in 30 years? Or do we still deny people the chance to take their career that they’ve achieved somewhere else and work here in terms of foreign skills, accreditation and stuff. Do you think we’ve made progress on this?

Rania Llewellyn:
I think we’ve made progress, but we haven’t made enough progress. I think there’s still a lot of work ahead of us. And I think when I came, I came to Halifax, Nova Scotia. And so when I first came there, by the time I left, Arabic was actually the second almost unofficial official language in the Maritimes, right? And that was because of immigration after the Gulf War. So I think the landscape has changed. I think some employers have started adapting and recognizing the importance of immigration to our workforce. But there’s still definitely lots of work to be done there. There are still lots of barriers to entry and I think we just need to keep talking more about it and as leaders kind of start acting and making a difference where we can make a difference.

Goldy Hyder:
I want to go back to something you said earlier, which is someone took you aside and gave you 10 minutes and that potentially changed the trajectory of your life. Do you remember that conversation?

Rania Llewellyn:
Absolutely.

Goldy Hyder:
What happened? Tell us about it.

Rania Llewellyn:
So I met him at my swearing-in ceremony, and then I met him a few weeks later. And then I actually called his office out of the blue and I said, “I’d like to meet Mr. Keith and I just need 10 minutes of his time.” It was his assistant who said, “Ah, you’re the new Canadian.” And I was like, “Ah, I made an impression.” And so when I met with him-

Goldy Hyder:
Now, you called? You called is the point. You made that call?

Rania Llewellyn:
Yes, I made that call. And that’s what I tell people, is you need to figure out a way how to stand out. I say that to my kids. I say that… I was at a university campus yesterday, because I’m like, “If you hand in your resume, you’re one of a thousand. So it’s how do you actually differentiate yourself and how do you stand out?” And so I remember we had a great conversation. I said, “Listen, I was born in Kuwait, I’m half Egyptian, I’m half Jordanian. This bank is Canada’s most international bank. This is the only bank I want to work for.” And so I remember every single word. And then he said, “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” I said, I want your job in 10 years.” He laughed and he said, “Why don’t you go down to HR and let’s see what we can do?”

And what I tell people is that’s why I’m always prepared to give 10 minutes of my time because-

Goldy Hyder:
There you go. Yeah.

Rania Llewellyn:
… I don’t know who the next person is that’s going to walk through that door. That’s how it shapes you and that’s how it changes your perspective on things.

Goldy Hyder:
Yeah, I think paying it forward is a really important part of the themes that we’ve discussed with many of our CEOs. I’m glad I asked that question. I’m glad you shared it because that 10 minutes changed your life. And frankly, it’s made a change in a lot of other people’s lives as a result. Now, you mentioned that you started off in banking, you were at Scotiabank before. Now you’re the first woman to lead a major chartered bank in Canada. Are you surprised by that?

Rania Llewellyn:
You know what, Goldy? I’d love to say I’m surprised. I’m not surprised. I’m obviously disappointed. It’s still a very much male-dominated industry, and not just industry, I would say in corporate Canada as a whole there’s lots of room and opportunities. I know we talk about immigration, but also from a gender perspective in terms of thinking differently, acting differently on what the expectations are. So no, I’m not surprised, but I’m very hopeful that I will be the first, but definitely not the last.

What I was surprised about, and I think it’s because I operated in a male-dominated industry for so long, is that I didn’t understand, I didn’t appreciate the impact it would have on people. And so when it was announced, having friends, colleagues, women, men saying I have a daughter, and so just the impact it had on younger girls, boys, men. So it was the inflow of congratulations, but truly understanding what that means and how representation, I think I took that for granted, that representation is important. People need to look up and be able to say, “That could be me someday.’

Goldy Hyder:
It’s sometimes said that women bring different kind of leadership to the table. I don’t want to be too generic about this, but certainly from an EQ perspective there’s a sense that women have a greater superpower there than perhaps men do. How have you used being a woman and being a woman leader in this male-dominated profession, as you noted, to start charting a different course for yourself, for leadership and for the bank?

Rania Llewellyn:
Yeah. You know what? I also don’t like generic kind of blanket statements because I say we’re all individuals, you’re all products of your environment. So yes, I’m a woman, but I’m also an immigrant and I’m also Middle Eastern and then I’m also… So we’re all kind of very complex human beings.

It’s funny, after my one year anniversary here at Laurentian my team did a word cloud, they went out to all of our employees. I got very emotional and I started crying and I actually told them, “You’re probably never going to see another CEO cry in front of you.” And that’s not something that I shy away from because I said, “You know what? We’re humans first.” And so leading with vulnerability and leading with empathy. But I wouldn’t say that’s just a woman thing. I think there are other individuals out there, but I am very, very comfortable in terms of being vulnerable and empathetic in terms of how I lead.

Goldy Hyder:
It might even be on this podcast with you. It might even be on this podcast with you. I hear you. But wearing your emotion on your sleeve is another sign of authenticity. I think in terms of authentic leadership, that’s what people are responding to. Now I want to ask, you mentioned you’ve got Sophie at 18 and Zach at 16, so clearly a daughter and a son. Do you give them different advice or do you tell them the same thing?

Rania Llewellyn:
Ah, that’s very good. I think they’re different personalities. And so I would give them… It’s kind of like there’s never one size fits all in coaching, right? And sometimes you need a velvet hammer versus sometimes you need a steel hammer. And so I think you customize, you kind of learn a lot of your leadership skills to be honest at home, right? It’s true.

Goldy Hyder:
And your weaknesses.

Rania Llewellyn:
Yes. And I would say, and then I do think there’s an element of nature versus nurture. It’s amazing. And I know you have kids as well. So kids that are raised in the same exact environment, but there’s a nature element that comes in terms of their natural DNA and personalities. And so I would say that there’s some generic advice that I would give them, but then there are kind of specific coaching and advice that I would give them based on the way they think, the way they process and the way they approach life.

Goldy Hyder:
But what about Sophie as another woman?

Rania Llewellyn:
You know what? I would say that it’s shocking to me. I think there’s lots of structural issues in society still that create some of the challenges that we have from a gender differentiation perspective. And I’ll use an example, I’ll never forget she came home one day and was quite upset because her Phys Ed teacher said, “Oh, if you’re a girl and you score, you get two points. And if you’re a boy and you score it’s one point.” And she was so angry because she’s quite competitive, she’s quite athletic. And it starts at such a young-

Goldy Hyder:
I wonder where she got that.

Rania Llewellyn:
But it starts at such a young age, Goldy, right?

Goldy Hyder:
Yeah.

Rania Llewellyn:
So that’s society, that’s their expectation. And so how do we actually break down some of those barriers? And you carry that through life. And so it’s funny, she’s taking an organizational behavior course now and a lot of things they are teaching them in terms of biases and recruitment and retention of talent. And it’s all now, she’s like, “Mom, you know all the stories you told me over the years? It’s all starting to sink in and resonate with me.”

Goldy Hyder:
Isn’t that disturbing? It’s 2022.

Rania Llewellyn:
Yeah, it’s sad. And that’s why I was saying I think we have a lot of work to do, not just from an immigration perspective, from a gender equality, different ways of thinking. I think it’s really, really important for us to encourage people to be their authentic selves and to be courageous enough to be able to share how they think differently. And one of the things I say, why fit in when you can stand out?

Goldy Hyder:
That’s a great line. Let’s talk about from your career development perspective. More often than not, leaders have role models. They have either role models that they may or may not know, but they try and emulate or aspire or they have come across a sponsor or mentor. Tell us a little bit about people who made a difference in your life.

Rania Llewellyn:
I’d be remiss not to start with my parents. I do think that starts at home. When it comes to my father, the importance of high integrity, hard work, being very honest. And then if I look at my mom, being very passionate, being driven and ambitious. I would say that’s really where it kind of started at home. You kind of bring an A in my mom saying, “Okay, when’s your A+ coming? Great job, good job, but where’s your A+?” And so it’s having those two role models early on.

And then I would say it’s interesting how over the years you have different role models for different things. I’ve had great leaders where you watch them inspire their teams in terms of how they deliver their speeches with passion and clarity. And so I’ve learned lots over the years just working for different leaders, watching other leaders. Some that I would say are continue to be sponsors and mentors till this day that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Sometimes you get inspired by people that you actually mentor yourself. And so there are certain moments where I’ve mentored people and I’ve been inspired and it’s kind of reverse mentorship that tends to happen as well. So I would say, you know what? I’m very open to actually looking at different types of role models on an ongoing basis and not limiting it to professional versus personal life. I think you can find them in all places, but I would say it started early on with my parents.

Goldy Hyder:
Where do you think you are in your own leadership journey?

Rania Llewellyn:
I’m still growing and learning. I’ve been a CEO now for the last two years. It’s a regulated publicly traded company, so I’m learning lots. I’ve always been a very curious leader in terms of continuous learning. And I always ask for feedback from anybody and everybody who’s prepared to give me feedback. And so continue to be open and humble to learning and aspiring to be better as a leader. So I would say, listen, I think it’s a lifetime journey and I’m continuously growing and learning as we go forward.

Goldy Hyder:
Yeah, I’m glad you said it that way because a lot of people who think, “Well they’ve gotten to that job so the learning has stopped.” And I think this podcast is showing people are always learning.

Rania Llewellyn:
Always. And that’s what I look for when I’m recruiting. It’s that continuous thirst for learning because life would be boring if you stop learning.

Goldy Hyder:
Indeed. Well this wasn’t boring. You were at a bank and you were there for most of your career and then you end up going to a completely different bank. You’re an outsider. We all know, and certainly people who listen to this podcast know the importance of culture to any organization. How was that transition from leaving what is one bank’s culture going to another bank that you didn’t really know, I assume, that well? How did you manage that?

Rania Llewellyn:
Yeah, so I think that it’s interesting. People think that one institution has one culture. I think the tone is definitely set from the top, but when you work for a very large organization and you’re an actual leader in that organization, you can actually set your own kind of subculture within that. And so even though I was with one institution for most of my life, I mean I started there when I was 18, I left there when I was 44 so I was there for a long, long period of time. I would say that there were different cultures that I was exposed to and I had the opportunity to set the tone from the top.

So joining Laurentian Bank two years ago, I thought it was a great challenge to talk about growth. The advice I always give people is, you should be able to do 50% of the job and the other 50% is something where you can continue to grow and learn and have an impact. And I saw it as a great opportunity for me to continue and grow, but also make an impact. And culture was always important to me. So it was a tremendous opportunity for me to set the tone from the top. And when it’s a smaller organization, to be able to rally the troops and come up with a unified purpose and vision. And so it’s been a fantastic journey over the last two years and I feel very blessed and humbled and fortunate to be able to set a new culture within the Laurentian Bank over the last couple of years.

Goldy Hyder:
Is it hard to come from outside to a new organization? You have to believe there were people in the bank who may have thought they were ready to be the next CEO of that bank. What were some of the tougher decisions or challenges that you had to face?

Rania Llewellyn:
I would say the harder thing was joining in the middle of a pandemic. So joining a new institution in the middle of a pandemic was probably the single biggest challenge. And so not being able to walk the floors, meet people. I had lots of vacancies at my executive level. And so even within the institution that I stayed at for so long, moving from one role to another is a change. But yes, this was a much bigger leap and a much bigger change. But again, I always boil it down to a few things. Organizations are made of people. You need to be a really good listener to be a good leader, so I started with lots of round table conversations. Technology really helps because I was able to do a lot of these employee round tables in a very short period of time, listening in terms of what’s working well, what’s not working well.

I even asked them for advice like, “If you were the CEO of this company, what advice would you give me?” And so I think if you kind of boil it down to a few things, Goldy, it always starts by a keen interest, being curious, listening, as you’re starting to formulate what the strategic direction and what are some of the core values that you need to continue, whether some you keep, some you tweak, some you throw out. So I would say it’s the same challenge as any, but I would say that the pandemic was an interesting one on top of that one.

Goldy Hyder:
I mean, it had to be because if culture is so important to leadership and tone being set at the top, if you don’t have physical interaction, the things that you miss out on incidental things that you don’t get on a Zoom call or a Teams call or whatever it might be. Were you at all worried about, “Wow, I mean this is not the best way to start a brand new job, my first time as CEO, when I can’t meet my people. How do I impose my new culture that I want to bring to the organization?”

Rania Llewellyn:
I think that as a leader, you just put your head down, you start just going through the motions. And so I had a plan. I think that in a remote environment you have to be a lot more intentional, you have to be a lot more deliberate in your communication. So that was the first thing I built, was actually a very comprehensive communication plan. And it was, “Who are the stakeholders? What channel are we going to communicate with them? What are some of the key messages? What’s the purpose of the communication?”

So we did round tables with employees. So for me to get a pulse on where is their mindset. I’m a new person coming in from the outside. With that comes a lot of fear in an organization. And so for them to actually be able to connect with me, have open dialogue, open Q&As, ask me whatever you want to ask me. Reaching out. To be honest, I reached out to a lot of CEOs from different industries, like, “I’m a new CEO.”

I don’t think it’s any different. I just think you have to be a lot more organized, a lot more intentional and deliberate in terms of your outreach process and your communication strategy.

Goldy Hyder:
Now you know that CEOs across this country and many parts of the world have been seized with this whole “How do we find work-life balance? How do we get people to work either in the office or at home, some kind of a hybrid?” You’ve taken an approach at the bank and I just want you to take the listeners through where you’ve landed on how to navigate this new world we’re in.

Rania Llewellyn:
Yeah, so Goldy, I think because of the experience because of my lived experience – I joined in the middle of the pandemic – I challenge people that you can’t change culture in a remote setting because I’ve remotely been managing the bank for almost the past two years throughout the pandemic, whether it’s from recruitment, doing virtual town halls, meeting with clients, talking to analysts, doing CEO calls. And so the challenge I had for my new management team was, “If we’d been able to successfully do that remotely, what do we need an office for?” We flipped the conversation in terms of, “Let’s go back to the office and figure out what tasks we do at home.” It was, “What is it that we need the office for?”

And then we surveyed all of our employees to say, “Okay, how often do you want to come back to the office?” And when 85% of them said, “I don’t want to be back in the office more than two or three days,” and so taking into account, obviously the impact it has on our customers, we gave up 50% of our corporate head office space in Montreal, Toronto as well is in Burlington. And so by doing that, the option of all coming back into the office is now off the table. And so how do we go about then figuring out what do you need the office space for? So we created something that was a cultural bootcamp where all the leaders, “flexibility in a box” we call it, they had to go through it.

And so we identified different personalities. We wanted the leaders to very quickly figure out that, you may have a team of 10 people and all 10 people want 10 different things, but obviously that’s not going to work for the team, but let’s talk through it. Let’s actually understand different perspectives and then let’s put in some principles and guidelines for us to best optimize how we operate as a team.

So for example, for my leadership team, we agreed that all of our strategic offsites have to be in person. And so we rotate them between Toronto and Montreal. That’s a non-starter. Our analyst calls, the key players on that analyst call, we have to all be in the same room together. And so we said we need to do a couple of offsites together. So team building activities, onboarding, training. So that’s how we’re also reconfiguring our real estate space to make sure that it’s conducive to those moments where we actually need to meet physically.

Goldy Hyder:
I would assume that in the bank there are some people who don’t have that choice. Tellers, for example, if you’re working in a physical location, do they not have to come to work every day?

Rania Llewellyn:
So we don’t have tellers at Laurentian Bank.

Goldy Hyder:
You don’t have any at all? None?

Rania Llewellyn:
Because we don’t handle cash. We don’t handle cash in our branches.

Goldy Hyder:
Something me and the listeners have just learned.

Rania Llewellyn:
But what I would say is that you’re right, throughout the pandemic, many of our staff that were in the branches had to go into the branches. And so what we’ve been doing, Goldy, since then is retooling them. They had no access to laptops so we’ve actually been able to give them laptops. And with our digital first strategy, we are looking at – given that we no longer handle cash in our branches – who comes into our branches? How often do we need people there? How many people need to be there? Can they actually work remotely? So we’re working through all of that, but we’re making sure we’re engaging with our employees to make sure that we get the right model for both our employees as well as to support the business model that we’re looking to deliver to our customers.

Goldy Hyder:
And it’s going well?

Rania Llewellyn:
So far so good.

Goldy Hyder:
Do you think it’s permanent?

Rania Llewellyn:
I don’t think anything in life is permanent. I think as any good operator, you need to constantly be challenging your business model and how you operate. So no, I think we’ve recently just did our employee engagement survey, which was the second in nine years. When I joined, there was no employee engagement survey. Our work-life balance is through the roof. Our employee engagement scores are up 3% year over year. So we’re definitely moving in the right direction. We’re listening to our employees, but nothing in life is permanent.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, I’ve had a colleague of mine say, “We’ll know, things are going back to normal as soon as men put their ties back on.” We’ll see. We’ll see.

Rania Llewellyn:
I don’t think you’ve ever lost your tie, Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:
My friend said I came out with one and with a business card in my hand. But look, let’s talk about the issue of labour itself. There has been a lot said in the country. Our colleagues at the Business Council talk about this regularly. Major issue is labour, labour skills, reskilling, but labour shortage itself. Has that affected you at the bank at all? Or your customers at the bank?

Rania Llewellyn:
Yeah, so I would say, listen, I think we’re all in the war for talent all at the same time. I think our work from home first strategy has helped us, has benefited us. So we’ve been able to attract a lot of particularly IT talent who many of them would want to work from home. So that has actually worked to our advantage.

But there is a serious war on talent. And so retaining talent, turnover has been a challenge and an issue for everybody this year. I think that’s going to continue if we don’t solve for it. So there’s an opportunity from an immigration, and I think Goldy you and I have spoken about it many times in terms of how do we bring in more talented, skilled immigrants for roles that we are all craving to fill. And I would say over the last year we’ve done a pretty good job in terms of being able to attract talent.

We had a great employee appreciation event in May in Toronto as well as in Montreal. And it was great seeing talent. They’ve only been in the country for two years and we’re giving them their first job, whether it be in cyber, whether it be in compliance, whether it be in back office, front office. There’s still a need for that. I think the government has promised that they’re bringing in half a million people over the next couple years. So that’s going to help hopefully relieve some of the pain.

And then I would say upskilling. Upskilling is definitely an opportunity. And then we’re leveraging it as, “Let’s not be limited to our physical footprint.” My head of ESG, for example, is based out of Edmonton. So while I may not have a physical corporate office in Edmonton, I’ve got resources in Edmonton. So working from home also creates some opportunities and flexibility for us in terms of addressing some of the labour challenges.

Goldy Hyder:
I’m guessing you look at the Tim Horton’s staff when you’re out there trying to hire them? It turned out well for you.

Rania Llewellyn:
I hire for behaviors, that’s what I tell people. I was actually at a university campus yesterday talking to a class of finance students and I said, “Listen, technical skills are great, but at the end of the day, do you have the drive? Do you have the ambition? Are you hungry? Do you want to succeed?” Those are the things that as an employer, that’s what we look for. All the other technical skills we can teach.

Goldy Hyder:
Hey, listen, just in case things don’t work out for me here, I want you to know I’m a Tim Hortons drinker as you can tell by this cup in my hand. Look, there’s covered a lot of ground. I want to just wind up with something that really struck me. Your bank has five core values, and there’s one I want to focus in on, and that is this statement that really stood out to me and that is “We act courageously.” What do you mean by that?

Rania Llewellyn:
So it was one of those ones where… The fact is when I joined the bank, I kept hearing, “But our size, we’re small, it’s hard to compete.” And so it was turning it upside down and saying, “Well, on the contrary, our size should be our advantage. So how can we be bold and courageous in terms of our thinking? How can we think differently? How can you challenge your colleagues to think outside the box? How can we challenge mediocracy?” The start of that conversation is how do you challenge status quo? And that starts by having a courageous conversation to think differently.

So even to take a stance at Laurentian Bank then to say, “You know what? We’re going to do something very different than the other financial institutions. We’re going to say you’re going to work from home first.” So that that’s a courageous move. You can say that. And so how do we hold each other accountable? And that was a really important core culture that we wanted to make sure that resonates and is embedded in everything that we do on a daily basis.

Goldy Hyder:
But when it comes to values, it’s one thing to identify them and it’s another thing to live by them. So how do you actually implement these values in practice?

Rania Llewellyn:
So core values, it’s easy to put it on a piece of paper.

It’s very difficult to kind of live and breathe it. And as I say, it’s monkey see, monkey do. And so as leaders, we need to be able to actually show that and act courageously on a daily basis. So watching us as an executive team courageously challenge each other, watching us working together as one winning team. So it truly starts by visible leadership and practicing what we preach. So that’s number one.

Number two, we actually created a cultural bootcamp for all of our employees. And yes, it was on everyone’s scorecards to be completed 100%. So everyone needed to complete it and they needed to report back. And so it was having these conversations within the respective teams on, “What does it mean to be courageous? How would you rate our team? How would you rate the rest of the bank?” So it was the start of that conversation.

And recently what we instituted is a recognition program that lives our core values. And so if for example, Goldy today initiated a courageous conversation, I can go into our system and send you a recognition that basically says, “Today you acted courageously.” Your boss gets to see that recognition. And it’s a great way for us to kind of live and breathe these values on a day to day basis and to reinforce it that that’s really how we do things. But yes, this is a journey we’re on, but it starts by recognizing, it starts by leading by example. And so we’re early on our journey, but I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made thus far.

Goldy Hyder:
Well look, we’ve covered your story. Talked a bit about the bank. I want to end with perhaps what you and I cherish the most out of all of this outside of our families, is this country called Canada. You talked about your move here, you talked about your journey. How do you think we as a country compete in today’s world?

Rania Llewellyn:
First of all, I’m extremely proud to be Canadian as you are, Goldy. And I love this country. I think we have an opportunity now of a lifetime to punch above our weight. If you look at making size our advantage, which is one of our strategic pillars at Laurentian Bank, the little train that could, Canada is so well positioned. We have amazing skilled labour, we’ve got amazing financial institutions, a stable economy. We’ve got great educational system. And so we’ve got digital technologies. We’re in the forefront. We’ve got resources. We’ve got so many things, we just need to work collectively together to punch above our weight. And I think that’s the opportunity that how can we come together and show the entire world what we’re made of? And I think we need to stop worrying about that imposter syndrome, right? We just need to get out there and start telling the world what a great country we are and how lucky they would be to do business with us.

Goldy Hyder:
Sounds like you’re saying Canada should have the courage to succeed. Seize the moment.

Rania Llewellyn:
Well said, Goldy. Well said.

Goldy Hyder:
This whole thing’s been well said. Thank you. It didn’t take much courage for me to have you come on because I knew this was going to be great and I think you’ve left a lot for people to think about. I can’t thank you enough for doing it.

Rania Llewellyn:
Thank you, Goldy. I really appreciate you having me on your show.

Goldy Hyder:
Rania Llewellyn is president and CEO of Laurentian Bank. If you would like to hear more of our Speaking of Business conversations with innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs, I hope you’ll subscribe to our podcast. Search for Speaking of Business wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, why not give us a review? You can also find us online at thebusinesscouncil.ca. Yes, thebusinesscouncil.ca. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder. Thanks for joining us.