Business leaders welcome release of the Indo-Pacific Strategy

Victor Dodig is President and CEO of CIBC.

Victor grew up in a tough inner-city neighbourhood, the child of working-class immigrants. One of his earliest jobs was hanging pork bellies in a meat-packing plant. Humble beginnings for the man who now leads one of Canada’s largest financial institutions.

Our conversation touches on the kindness of strangers, the mentors who shaped his career, and how there’s no room at Victor’s bank for big egos and swinging for fences. Plus: why one of Canada’s top bankers makes a trip to Disney World every year.

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 Victor Dodig, president and CEO of CIBC.

Goldy Hyder:

Victor grew up in a tough inner city neighborhood, the child of working class immigrants. One of his earliest jobs was hanging pork bellies in a meat packing plant. Humble beginnings for the man who now leads one of Canada’s largest financial institutions. Our conversation touches on the kindness of strangers, the mentors who shaped his career and how there’s no room at Victor’s bank for big egos and swinging for fences. Plus, why one of Canada’s top bankers makes a trip to Disney world every year. I bet you didn’t see that one coming. Here’s our conversation. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Goldy Hyder:

Victor, thank you for doing this.

Victor Dodig:

It’s a pleasure.

Goldy Hyder:

We’re looking forward to hearing more about you and your story. So, why don’t we start at the beginning. I want to start with your parents actually.

Victor Dodig:

Okay, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Goldy Hyder:

Tell me about your parents.

Victor Dodig:

So my parents, they’re immigrants to Canada. My father came as a refugee and my mother arrived a few years later as a non-refugee and they were both born and raised in a small village on the border of Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina like right on the border. They are Croats by ethnic origin. They came from a relatively tough part of the world. My father left communist Yugoslavia in 1959 by escaping and going to a UN refugee camp with six others in Italy, and spent two years there. And then, applied with the refugee committee of the United States and Canada in late 1960 and arrived here in 1961 choosing to come to Canada.

Goldy Hyder:

Why do you think he chose Canada?

Victor Dodig:

He chose Canada for a number of different reasons. One, his uncle arrived here in 1929 and helped him settle in. I think he liked what Canada stood for, broadly speaking, and he felt like it was a good opportunity for him to build a life with some connectivity. My mother arrived in 1964 and I was a hatched in 1965 about 10 months after she arrived.

Goldy Hyder:

Right. And there was one more hatching after, right?

Victor Dodig:

There was one more hatching after in 1971 my brother was born at the same hospital.

Goldy Hyder:

That’s something you and I share, just a little brother.

Victor Dodig:

Yeah, that’s right.

Goldy Hyder:

Those are stories we can’t talk about.

Victor Dodig:

No. We’ll leave those off the podcast.

Goldy Hyder:

Right. What do you remember about your own time here growing up in those early days?

Victor Dodig:

I grew up in a community. As most immigrants do, they cling onto their community until they branch out. So, I grew up in Parkdale, which is Toronto’s inner city. My parents ended up buying a three floor house in which we rented out three of the four floors, so the basement was rented out as well, just to make a bridge to the next generation of wealth. My mother cleaned houses, my father worked in various factory jobs. They both ended up working at Dominion stores, my mother in the bakery, my father in the warehouse. Then, we moved out to Mississauga.

Victor Dodig:

But the formative early years were in Parkdale, which was a tough hood and has become more gentrifying of late but still has elements of toughness. The hospital that I co-chaired a campaign for recently, Saint Joseph’s Hospital sits in the midst of it. So, you see the divide of the wealthy on the West end and those who are still struggling to make ends meet a little further East.

Goldy Hyder:

And you got across that street.

Victor Dodig:

Yeah, I got to cross that street, and part of it is through the kindness of strangers. My mother early in her time here cleaned houses and we were fortunate enough to clean houses for people that were in the know or had certain roles in society and they took an interest in us. And I never will forget one gentleman, the late Bill Longeway, who she cleaned the house for him. Miles road, 10 miles road, if I remember correctly off the Lake shore was the chairman of a hospital. Was a really gentle man and took an interest in me and he’d drive me around when she was cleaning just to show me the hospital, show me the city, talk to me about what life is like and opens your eyes to the whole new world.

Victor Dodig:

Through that kindness of strangers, whether it was during the year or during the holidays, when you’d receive gifts from like Simpsons, that kind of stuff. You’re like, hey, this is interesting. This is kind of Canada. And that’s how I became a Canadian, step-by-step interaction by interaction. You didn’t really speak English very well until you’re five because you basically learned it from Sesame Street on TV, and then you got to school and life opened up.

Goldy Hyder:

Tell us about the house that you grew up in.

Victor Dodig:

Yeah, 159 Macdonell. So, we had an interesting house because it backed onto a fire department. But before the fire department got built, it was in the early ’70s, it was occupied by auto mechanics, the building there. The auto mechanics were largely Vietnam draft dodgers who would during the summer months when I was home march every day from our lane way, where their little shop was through our backyard carrying an American flag and walking quietly through our backyard. My father and I would watch them and they just walk through and walk into the main street, which was Macdonell Avenue, and then do what they needed to do.

Victor Dodig:

And it was this sort of thing that I observed as a youngster. You’d watch Walter Cronkite on the news and you put it all together. These were the draft dodgers, these were the protesters. These were those who were against the war. I think they were just as patriotic as any other American, but they had a different view of how to deal with it.

Goldy Hyder:

All right, so let’s get you to work here-

Victor Dodig:

That’s a real true story actually.

Goldy Hyder:

You know what? I’m just thinking in today’s context of when the president first got elected, there was this talk of how many people would be coming over and I wonder how many did and maybe cutting through your yard still with an American flag. Did you ever look at the other side of that street and think, I want to be there.

Victor Dodig:

All the time. The other side being the-

Goldy Hyder:

The Parkdale, you were saying there’s one side and then there’s another side.

Victor Dodig:

I still liked to go to Parkdale after I graduated from Harvard Business School. The first place we moved to when we came back to Canada was my old house on Parkdale. After I graduated from business school, I actually wanted to move up to the third floor so I can save some money as we bought our new house. So my wife and I did that for eight months-

Goldy Hyder:

Did you pay rent?

Victor Dodig:

No rent, but there was no dishwasher there either. So, it was like one of those 1970s houses.

Goldy Hyder:

I think I’m talking to the dishwasher, aren’t I?

Victor Dodig:

You are. There were only two of us at the time, so I still feel very much at home there.

Goldy Hyder:

Really?

Victor Dodig:

Yes, very much at home, and there’ll be times where I’ll ride my bike through Parkdale.

Goldy Hyder:

Why do you think that is?

Victor Dodig:

Because that’s where you grew up. You saw everything there. It’s just the crossroads of society.

Goldy Hyder:

But it was also a tough hood.

Victor Dodig:

It was a tough hood.

Goldy Hyder:

Tough place to grow up. You must’ve had some memories of not so fun times, so people driving around.

Victor Dodig:

There have been times we almost got beat up in a corner or an alley or something like that. But, I always have the good memories. My teacher in Parkdale public school, I was in an enrichment class in grade four and five before we moved out. She taught three grades in one room. She taught 30 students, grade four 10 of us, grade five, 10 of us, grade six 10 of us, a lot of self study. She was one of the most powerful women I’ve ever met in my life. She had a command of all of us. She was able to teach throughout the curriculum, and we were able to interact with one another and it was probably the best learning environment I was in, in my life.

Goldy Hyder:

Let’s talk about your education though, right? Just take us through the journey.

Victor Dodig:

The journey was public school, three years of elementary Catholic school, but the first 13 years were largely public school, Parkdale for the early part. Then we moved out to Mississauga. I went to a school called Saints Martha and Mary for a few years, but then went to Glenforest high school and there I played football, I played soccer. I’ll never forget-

Goldy Hyder:

What position were you in football?

Victor Dodig:

I played tight end.

Goldy Hyder:

Tight end.

Victor Dodig:

Field goal kicker and punter. Yeah, and-

Goldy Hyder:

Multitasker.

Victor Dodig:

For that time, I have a torn ACL that I will remember for the rest of my life, but I’ll never regret repeating that whole experience because it was truly an eye opening experience.

Goldy Hyder:

Why?

Victor Dodig:

Well, the football team was interesting because in junior football, the first 110 people all made the team, so everybody got to play.

Goldy Hyder:

All the good 100s.

Victor Dodig:

The 110th person never got pads on his legs, so he looked like a seagull every time he tried to catch the ball. All the others were padded. But, we all got to play. It was a school that was also a mix of Canada’s where Canada came together. We had a principal, the late Arnie Forde who used to play football for the [crosstalk 00:08:31].

Goldy Hyder:

No relation with any of the other Fords, I’m guessing.

Victor Dodig:

No. Arnie Forde was black and Arnie Forde played for the Edmonton Eskimos. I’ll never forget growing up as a teenager in that school, there were drugs as there were at any other school. There is graffiti after the weekend. Some of it would pointedly point to Arnie Forde, and he came in on Monday mornings and he shook down all the problem kids and he said, “You know what? I’m going to make it better, but it’s going to be tough love.” It was an amazing experience because some of those kids were formed because of Arnie Forde because he really genuinely cared.

Victor Dodig:

But it was this crossroads of Canada. It was crossroads of sometimes racial tension, sometime drugs, but everybody wanted to contribute to make the place better in their own special way.

Goldy Hyder:

You think that’s changed any today?

Victor Dodig:

I think it still exists to varying degrees. I think it’s one of these things that we constantly need to strive to enrich the social fabric of our country because everyone is bringing something different. Today we have immigrants coming from different parts of the world, different religions, different beliefs, different points of view, and we need to make that an ever richer part of our social fabric. And it’s not easy. I mean, look, my father always said when he came, he was called a wop without papers, right? But over time people take an interest in you and just-

Goldy Hyder:

Beats some of the things I was called by the way.

Victor Dodig:

I know we were all called, we all called each other’s names, but somehow we all got to appreciate who we each are, which is, I think the most important thing is just try to understand where someone’s coming from as opposed to always tell them where they need to come from.

Goldy Hyder:

Well look, I’m going to go somewhere I was intending to go later, but probably as well go now. I mean you look at the world is becoming tribal.

Victor Dodig:

Yup.

Goldy Hyder:

And you’re a CEO of a major Canadian and global company. One of the issues you and I have talked about and we share a passion for is immigration. And yet we’re not really having the conversation about what we need to do to grow the country. How do you feel about that knowing that immigration has essentially led to your success?

Victor Dodig:

It has.

Goldy Hyder:

And has grown the country.

Victor Dodig:

So, I’m a big believer in immigration. I’m a big believer in this system that we have. I think the points system with some element of refugee access is important. Getting that balances right. I do believe that the numbers are too low. If you look at any aspect of GDP growth, 60% of GDP growth comes from population growth, and our birth rate is declining. Unless we get population growth in Canada, we’re going to go from what we were a G7 country to a G18 country to a G50 country very, very quickly and our voice will quickly begin to dissipate and we won’t have that Canadian voice on the international stage because our economic strength will be mitigated.

Victor Dodig:

Immigration is a contributor to the fabric of our country. It’s a contributor to economic growth. It’s good for business, it’s good for quality of life. The point system that we have in place, some of the fast track elements of what has been put in place in this very competitive world to attract the best and the brightest to Canada is something that we all need to lean in on.

Goldy Hyder:

All right, well said. One of the things about immigration is there tends to be even a negative reaction at times from immigrants themselves and I feel we have to understand that before we bring in immigrants, Canadians are saying we need to fully utilize the capacity and the capabilities of the people that are here. In some cases that’s immigrants, in some cases that is people with disabilities, but more recently the emphasis has been put on the underemployment that women have in our workforce. And you’re very passionate about diversity but also the issue of genders and bringing forth the opportunities for women in business. Tell us where that comes from.

Victor Dodig:

Look, women play a very important role in our society, and I think it’s good for business, for women to play important role at the leadership level of companies and in the governance of companies, on board representation and in the C suite. Particularly when you look at where the economy is going, where we’re becoming much, much more of a service oriented economy where the largest factor input into a productive economy, is our minds, our intellectual capital. We want to make sure that the full strength of our population, the men and the women are equally represented and equally contributing to the strength of our companies and to our country.

Victor Dodig:

What I continue to emphasize to everybody is this is not a sociological project. This is not something of sociological interest. This is good for business, this is good for the economy and this is what picking the best and the brightest to play those roles. But a country and a company will do much better if it reflects its full citizenry and it reflects the people it’s trying to serve than it reflects a very, very narrow group. I look at myself, yeah, I’m a white male, but I come from a background that maybe 30, 40 years ago felt like it was held back. Whether one likes multiculturalism or doesn’t, the policy of inclusion that came with that really helped me becoming that full Canadian that I am today, and a proud one at that.

Goldy Hyder:

This may be the bias of a father of three daughters, but I’ll go one step further. I agree with all of that. I think the society we’re living in now needs women leadership because I believe they bring far more EQ to the equation than men do.

Victor Dodig:

Absolutely. I mean, look at Angela Merkel, you look at Margaret Thatcher, you look at some who’ve had a profound imprint on our world.

Goldy Hyder:

There’s more to come.

Victor Dodig:

I mean there’s more to come.

Goldy Hyder:

I certainly believe it’ll be a better place if that happens.

Victor Dodig:

Absolutely.

Goldy Hyder:

Now, we’ve obviously heard in your voice continued passion for Croatia.

Victor Dodig:

Yeah.

Goldy Hyder:

But your involvement is not just having property there. You went on to help them internationally. Tell us that story.

Victor Dodig:

So, there was a brief period of time in 1991 when Croatians were looking for independence and there was a big gathering at the United Nations. It was a gathering of the annual gathering, and I was sent there as an aid to the foreign minister at the time and we were in the midst of lobbying countries and had opportunities to meet with Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Douglas Hurd. My other colleague met with James Baker and we were all trying to convince the world that this part of the world, like much of Eastern Europe was looking for its freedom and was looking to lean West and was looking to be part of that Western way, if you will.

Victor Dodig:

There was two notable moments. One is when Iceland called and said, we would like to recognize you. And we were astonished. So we said, “Well where do we meet the foreign minister?” And unlike all the other large countries, where you’d go to the UN Plaza hotel and had to sit in the waiting room and had your 10 minutes. The foreign minister of Iceland made us in the lobby of the Drake hotel in New York just sitting there very unassuming. In fact, we had asked several people, the foreign minister of Iceland. And in the end they were one of the first countries to recognize the country. That meeting was an important part of that.

Victor Dodig:

The second element I note of that particular week in New York was the Wall Street Journal. I read all of the newspapers today. I look for that centrist approach and views. But, I’ll never forget John Fund, who was editor of the Wall Street Journal at that time, convened the editorial board and wanted to meet with the foreign minister. And he wanted to know why Croatia wanted its independence and why it wanted to be a nation within the world. And I’ll never forget John Fund, who kept writing and writing and took a great interest in these aspiring nations of the world to be part of the United Nations, to be a contributor to today’s world.

Victor Dodig:

His editorials had a profound influence on the direction of that part of the world, and I think today, Croatia is a member of the European Union. It’s a NATO nation. It’s a proud nation in the world, and I’m proud of that fact.

Goldy Hyder:

Let’s go back to where we were. Your first job, what was it? Do you remember?

Victor Dodig:

Well, there’s a couple of first jobs. So, my first job was in grade 11 we did inventory at a Kmart on a Sunday and I got paid $27.

Goldy Hyder:

Our listeners are going to have to look up Kmart, you know that, right?

Victor Dodig:

I know that, I know that. I got paid $27 and I bought a world scope encyclopedia set that was only recently sold at a garage sale because they were at my mother’s house for the longest time.

Goldy Hyder:

Somebody wanted it?

Victor Dodig:

Somebody wanted it. I worked for several years loading trucks at Dominion Stores. I spent one summer hanging pig bellies at Canada Packers, and then I worked as a teller at CIBC during my university years during the summer.

Goldy Hyder:

Say that again. You worked at …

Victor Dodig:

CIBC.

Goldy Hyder:

As a teller.

Victor Dodig:

A great bank, a formidable financial institution.

Goldy Hyder:

And that’s when you said, “I’m going to run this place one day.”

Victor Dodig:

No, I didn’t have any of those premonitions back then. I just got offered a job by Josie who just retired from our bank three years ago. She was like my work mother, when she would call, I’d answer the phone. In fact, she’d be the only person that I almost jumped to the phone when she called because she gave me my first break in a white collar environment.

Goldy Hyder:

What did you learn from that? Do you remember?

Victor Dodig:

What did I learn from that? Listen, I learned the interest she took in all of us because we worked Thursday nights, Friday nights and Saturdays, and we were largely university students. So, we had a social agenda after work. Some of us had an academic agenda for part of that, and she always made sure we got out on time because she knew that something else was pressing in our life. She took an interest in us. She didn’t just preside over us, she knew who we were. She’d pull you aside every once in a while. There’s one time I couldn’t balance, one time, and she took an interest in making sure that I could balance.

Victor Dodig:

She would come in during the week when I had to come in to try and balance that book on a Tuesday or Wednesday. That wasn’t part of my “shift” to make sure that I got there. I’ll never forget that.

Goldy Hyder:

Well something tells me she’s left that with you.

Victor Dodig:

Yeah, I hope so. I like to think so.

Goldy Hyder:

Based on what I’ve seen, I’d say she’s had impact. That’s great. Then you went to work for General Foods. What was your job there?

Victor Dodig:

So, I really want it to be in a marketing role. I attended the university of Toronto in BCom. I had all those qualifying hours to go down the CA route. I spent one summer at Arthur Andersen, remember them?

Goldy Hyder:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Victor Dodig:

And I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. I wished I had my CA because I think it’s a great designation to have, but I pursued another route and I went down the Package Goods route. I had my own little printing business during school, when I worked as a teller I printed grade school year books and I got a job at General Foods. My first job was as an assistant product manager on Koolaid, which was one of the most profitable businesses in their portfolio in the late ’80s. It had a gross margin that approached 90% and it was all about how to market this powder, which is almost nonexistent today to young children and mothers.

Goldy Hyder:

Now through all of this, all of a sudden, the iron curtain comes down, and you decide to go back to Croatia, where your parents were.

Victor Dodig:

At the time, I was thinking, do I continue to pursue a package goods career or do I do something entrepreneurial? So, I joined a gentleman who at the time it was still Yugoslavia, and this is all interesting because it became Croatia during that time. And he started a business and I went there to help him, and he has now gotten a very successful chain of hotels in the Dubrovnik region. His children run it, they’re Canadians. So when you go visit them, they’re as Canadian as they are Croatian. It’s a cool bridge to the future. And, I think it’s something that everybody brings to this country is that bridge to where they came from, and that could be an outlet for our economy down the road.

Goldy Hyder:

Do you think you would have stayed there if the war didn’t break out?

Victor Dodig:

No. I think what I realized about myself, is I always thought, I admire entrepreneurs. And I said to myself, you know what? I think I’m a big organization guy. That’s odd to say because not many people describe it that way, but I went to Harvard and I just had my 25th year reunion two years ago, two weeks ago.

Goldy Hyder:

You got your MBA there?

Victor Dodig:

Yeah, I got my MBA there. And, I realized that, you know what, I like solving large organizational problems. My first job after graduating was with McKinsey and it really opened my eyes to a whole series of industries from forest products and [inaudible] where I traveled from. I lived in Boston for a while. My wife who’s from Boston. I’d travel on Sunday nights to Bargersville and I’d drive up to the holiday inn, and we did a study for what was then Abitibi on how to secure wood chips supply for pulp, to working with Kmart of all things as they did their international expansion to try and pull them back to the United States.

Victor Dodig:

And then I did a study for Midland Walwyn, and this is now … It’s McKinsey, so nobody ever talks about who they serve, but 25 years later you could usually talk about it. Midland Walwyn was independent brokers that ended up selling to Merrill Lynch. And that led to me joining Midland Walwyn and joining Merrill Lynch because I left McKinsey to that client at that time.

Victor Dodig:

So, my experience at HBS was eye opening because I met some really interesting people. I established many lifelong friendships and I met my spouse on a blind date.

Goldy Hyder:

I’m coming into that.

Victor Dodig:

Oh yeah, okay.

Goldy Hyder:

I was going to say as important as your MBA was, you got something even better from Boston, and that’s Maureen.

Victor Dodig:

I did.

Goldy Hyder:

Tell us how you found her.

Victor Dodig:

So I felt like this is the honest … This is the honest [crosstalk 00:21:39].

Goldy Hyder:

I’m going to ask her if you tell me anything different.

Victor Dodig:

I had a friend of mine whose politics is different than mine, but he’s one of my great friends, and he was dating somebody that was a friend of Maureen’s at the time. She’s a lawyer and he said, “There’s somebody that you should meet. They’re 30 and Catholic.” And like, huh, what? I didn’t think that those were the two most important variables in life. But I ended up having a blind date and got married 14 months later. Background on Maureen, she grew up in Boston. She’s also a daughter of second generation immigrants. Her grandfather was a chef at Harvard, a cook at Harvard. She ended up graduating from Harvard college.

Victor Dodig:

So one generation later, she was a lawyer. She clerked for Supreme court justice on the Massachusetts Supreme court. The first woman on the court who just passed away two weeks ago, Ruth Abrams and practiced law in Boston. And my pact with Maureen when I met her, I said, “Maureen, if we have kids, you know what? I’d like them raised in Canada, but then they can move wherever they want because they’ll have their dual citizenship. Being raised in Canada will allow them to be both Canadian and American because we all watch the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills, and we learned the Star Spangled Banner by the age of five.”

Goldy Hyder:

I thought she’s from Boston.

Victor Dodig:

Yes, I know. I know. Well, we watch the Buffalo Bills up here. Anyway, the patriots have come closer to our heart lately.

Goldy Hyder:

We’re coming to that.

Victor Dodig:

So she agreed to do that. She gave it all up to move up here. At first, it was difficult because even the immigration lawyers back in the late ’90s would say, “Why are you moving to Canada?” But, I have this great belief that Canada was as good as America in many, many respects. In some ways it was better, in some ways it needed work, but I wanted our children raised here and now they have their dual citizenship and they’ll pursue their lives as they wish, but they will tell you they feel Canadian and they feel American. Which, to me was the most important thing.

Goldy Hyder:

You just said something profound. Some ways we’re better and some ways we need work. Where do we need work?

Victor Dodig:

Well, we have a rich social fabric in our country. We have this sense of equality that I think is an important aspect of making sure that everyone feels they have a shot in society. We don’t have the Horatio Alger aspect to the Canadian economic mindset, which I don’t say we have to have that, but we have to have this sense of creating prosperity. And creating prosperity does come from attracting capital, intellectual capital, financial capital. It comes through smart regulation. It comes through working with all of our endowed resources to make sure that our country is working to its full potential.

Victor Dodig:

And sometimes I believe that we undershoot that. And in the end, while someone may say, well, GDP is growing a half a percent less than it is in the United States or other parts of the world, that half a percent means nothing in one year. It means a tremendous amount in 10, 15 and 20 years in terms of your standard of living.

Goldy Hyder:

One of the things I’ve seen you talk about, and I’m an Alberton as you know, is what you call the family business.

Victor Dodig:

Yes.

Goldy Hyder:

What’s that?

Victor Dodig:

Look, the family business is what made our country what it is today, and broadly speaking, I always say Canada fuels the world. When you think about what we’ve been endowed with in terms of energy, in terms of agriculture and more recently in terms of our intellectual capital, ideas, thoughts, innovation, Canada has so much to bring the world. And that is not just about bringing the new economy to the world and bringing ideas of what the world should be, but also recognizing that we’ve been tremendously endowed with natural resources from oil and gas and uranium to power the world to wheat and canola and soybean and all types of other agricultural products to power the world.

Goldy Hyder:

Fisheries, others.

Victor Dodig:

Fisheries and others. When I look at what Canada has been endowed with, the world needs more of Canada. It needs our ideas, it needs innovation, it needs a special way of looking at the world. But we have been endowed with these resources and we produce them responsibly. We produce them at a high quality level and we need to ensure that those resources get to market and fuel the world or we’ll see our standard of living suffer over time.

Goldy Hyder:

Do you think people are understanding that?

Victor Dodig:

I think some of them understand it. I think some of them want to move rapidly to some future that is utopian and ideal and I like all of that. I’m the first one to say that climate change does exist. We need to tackle the problem. But at my 25th year reunion, I heard a professor speak about the solutions and he said it’s multifaceted. It doesn’t mean shutting off energy production, oil or gas. It means creating opportunities for renewable resources, but recognizing that our non renewable resources produced responsibly are as important, particularly in the short term. And that I think we need to take stock of as Canadians.

Victor Dodig:

I’ve been to Alberta many, many times in my life and I’ve seen the boom and I’ve seen the bust and I feel as though we need to have more of a unifying message across our country where everybody has something to contribute, including our important energy producing provinces.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, thank you for your leadership in doing that Victor, I’ve heard you talk about it as a proud Canadian but also a proud Alberton, that message is very important. So keep doing that. Now let’s get back to how you ended up here. We had left off, you’ve found Maureen, you’re getting married and stuff and then you at 29 after Harvard you joined an investment banking firm and were appointed president of their asset-

Victor Dodig:

President of the asset management company.

Goldy Hyder:

And you once said that you were too young for that job, that you were in, “Way over your head.” Why did you feel that way and was it because you made a lot of mistakes?

Victor Dodig:

Well, at the age of 29 coming out as a consultant, having some experience with an entrepreneur in package goods-

Goldy Hyder:

I thought consultants know it.

Victor Dodig:

Consultants know how to solve problems theoretically, some practically. But in the end, wisdom comes through experience. And when I took that job on, it was early in my career, I needed help on how to lead. I needed help on how to delegate. I was a very good strategist, but when you recognize that in a business or in our organization, strategy is like part of it. It was Peter Drucker who said execution and culture, and execution eats strategy for lunch and breakfast each and every day. I think that’s very, very true. What I learned from my management team at that time was how to realize the best of them in trying to accomplish our agenda, how to recognize that it’s not just all about a strategy or a speech, it’s about how to engage, how to delegate, how to recognize the full strength of the team to achieve our ambitions.

Victor Dodig:

And that’s something that I learned early on. Fortunately, I had a very supportive management team that said, “Hey look, you’re smart, but we’re going to teach you some stuff about how to manage.”

Goldy Hyder:

But importantly you listened.

Victor Dodig:

I did listen, I did listen. I tend to listen. My father always says you have two ears and one mouth because it’s twice as hard to listen as it is to speak. So, that’s something that I’ll never forget. I do listen to this day, I listen intently on advice that’s given to me. So from that time, we grew a mutual fund company. Merrill Lynch bought the company and then they sent me to New York. They sent me to London.

Victor Dodig:

We spent several years in London, a little short time in New York. And guess what? I wanted to come back to Canada. So, when you’re out of the country for several years, you lose touch with people. I try and keep in touch with people, but I lost touch. I think I put in a hundred calls to people in 2001, 2002, two people called me back, the late Michael Wilson.

Goldy Hyder:

Yeah. I wanted to talk about him. He was one of your mentors, right?

Victor Dodig:

Yeah, and our most recent CEO, Gerald McCaughey, he called me back as well, who’s also a mentor and a friend. Both of them have had an important impact on my life. Gerry obviously tutored me as I worked here at CIBC, but my first job back was with Michael Wilson, and Michael Wilson had no reason to call me back. He didn’t know who I was, but like Mr. Longeway, he somehow was on the board of BP, came to London and said, let’s have breakfast. And again, you talk about the kindness of strangers, he has had a profound impact on my life. He gave me that lifeline back to Canada, gave me that role, told me I had to step down a few levels to take a job, managing clients again, even though I was very senior in my other job. And he said, “Look, we’ll see how you do and there may be opportunities that stem from it.” And again, he gave me that opportunity. I’ll never forget that to this day.

Goldy Hyder:

Let’s explore your leadership style.

Victor Dodig:

Sure.

Goldy Hyder:

How you’re running the bank. I’ll come back to how you got the job, and I’m curious because we were talking about leadership, your style, your approach.

Victor Dodig:

I’d say people would describe me in a couple of different ways. I think most people would say I’m thoughtful I think, I’m strategic, but people would say that I’m open. People say I have an open style, I’m open to feedback, I’m open to commentary, I’m open to criticism, I’m open to make what we have better. Recognizing that I don’t have all the answers. So, that style, some people can see as a weak leadership style. Some people can see it as a strong leadership style. I like to think it plays to my strengths. I think it plays to making me better as a leader. It makes sure that the team feels like they have a real hand in forming and shaping the future of our company.

Victor Dodig:

And the most important thing you need to do is you need to make sure that as a leader you have both your team sitting shoulder to shoulder with you and you have followership within the organization. You can’t be a leader without followers. You can’t be a leader without having a team shoulder to shoulder with you. Otherwise, you sit lonely in large companies and you lose the plot.

Goldy Hyder:

You are someone who’s known for visiting the branches, walking the call centers. I know you’re big at taking selfies. I think the PM got that from you. You’ve probably been doing it longer than he has, and you ask people, I’m told, any advice for me? What can we do better?

Victor Dodig:

Look, I think the best advice always comes from our very front line employees who are dealing with our clients each and every day. They see the issues in process. They see the cracks in the process, they see the benefits that we can give our clients if we just change a few things rather than sitting at head office and reading PowerPoint slides and I have to do that sometimes. I find that the best advice does come from our frontline employees, and part of that is being a front line employee myself. Part of that is recognizing that they interact with our clients each and every day more than anyone else does in our bank.

Goldy Hyder:

So when the time came, unfortunately for you, chair of your board is my predecessor in my job. So, I got a little insight here. You weren’t the chosen one necessarily.

Victor Dodig:

Right.

Goldy Hyder:

You kind of came from behind.

Victor Dodig:

Well, I was a candidate that maybe I had a few things that I needed to develop in my own CV, but I was given a shot by the board. So as we went through this process, I was identified as a candidate and I had a greater appreciation for how the board works with respect to CEO selection. And I came to appreciate that that is the board’s most important job.

Goldy Hyder:

Without a doubt.

Victor Dodig:

It’s making sure that the succession plan is in place for the CEO and for the leadership team. I was asked to present a plan, my vision of what we were building, and it is really about a relationship oriented bank for the modern world. It’s how technology is changing banking, but it’s how people matter and obviously below that lies a full strategy. You get tested psychologically, you get tested mathematically, you get tested in interviews and in the end I passed that test, and I was given the opportunity to lead the bank, which to me, I never would have imagined in 1985 when I first started as a teller at CIBC that I’d be leading the bank.

Victor Dodig:

But it’s a privilege, it’s a privilege to lead our institution. We’ve had our ups and downs just like any other institution does. Ours were more recent through the financial crisis, but we have 153 year history. What I really wanted to tap in is the well of goodwill and the well of great people that exist at our bank, that serve our great clients that turn our bank outward to the world once again. After the financial crisis, we went into a defensive mode and in the end to be a healthy financial institution, you need to grow by staying engaged with your clients. And I think that was the first order of business is reinvigorating that culture, a risk minded culture, but a client oriented culture that will help us grow again, and that’s where I think we are today.

Goldy Hyder:

I mean in some ways you were the quintessential Canadian candidate. You were the dark horse, you were the underdog. Why do you think you won?

Victor Dodig:

Look, every leader gets chosen by its board for a different era in its development. I think at this time or five years ago, the bank needed a leader that can reengage with our clients, that can reengage with our employees, that had a vision for the future of banking, but that had a very strong people person dimension to who they were. And what we’ve really tried to do at CIBC with the help of our team is to humanize the bank, to take down the hierarchy, to take down the corner offices. The corner offices exist, but through technology, through a high level of engagement to recognize that nobody needs to fear the leader. People need to engage with the leader. People need to contribute to the leadership’s team’s thinking and feel like they have a real hand in shaping the future of our bank. And I think that’s probably why I got chosen.

Goldy Hyder:

I’m told the board’s, one of their primary consideration was who’s going to change the direction of this bank? And I often quote a church billboard I once saw back in Calgary 30 years ago. It says, the only one looking forward to change is a wet baby and change is heart, change is heart.

Victor Dodig:

Change is heart, yup.

Goldy Hyder:

And you came in here, and I’ll be blunt, I’m a longtime CIBC customer. It was a bank that was ranking quite high back in the early days, but had gone through … I mean there’s an old saying that you couldn’t miss making a mistake on things from Enron to 2008 and to other things. And you came into this culture and you knew you had to change it, setting aside what a daunting task that was. How did you go about thinking about the bank’s reputation and its image and how are you going to change that over time?

Victor Dodig:

Well, the first thing we needed to do is reinvigorate the culture, making sure that everyone had a hand in it. So as an example, our capital markets team, which is a great team. Out of that business came some of our issues over the past decade. Little things like, I think we’re all going to wear our bank pin. I think we’re going to get rid of the black logos and we’re all going to work under one brand. I think we’re going to work like one team, having our senior executives adopt banking centers. So the top 350 go to banking centers every quarter. Even if you’re on the trading floor, to recognize that what you do is important, but what others do is equally important and sometimes more important to the future of our bank. That was a big part of what we had to do is to reinvigorate that culture.

Victor Dodig:

The second thing was a message that there are no star bankers, there are no star clients. We’re running the business for our shareholders on behalf of all our clients, like a team. There is no room for the big ego. There is no room for swinging for fences. Our primary purpose is to protect depositors, our secondary role is to help businesses grow and families and individuals prosper. And if we remember that, and that’s a quote that came from a hundred years ago from one of our bank CEOs in the early 1900s Edmund Walker, who was the founder of the ROM. That’s what banks do, and if you start losing sight of the fact that you’re there to be stable and safe for deposits and you’re there to help businesses grow in a smart way, help families and individuals prosper in a smart way, you can grow and be stable and be strong and there’s no room for stars.

Goldy Hyder:

Now you’re client centric approach, customer centric approach, you attribute to a company called Disney.

Victor Dodig:

Disney, yes. One of my classmates is a senior executive there in the theme park business.

Goldy Hyder:

Didn’t I see a photo of you in Mickey mouse ears at space mountain or something?

Victor Dodig:

Admittedly I’m a Disney aficionados. I go every year to Disney. I wait in line-

Goldy Hyder:

How can you not like Disney?

Victor Dodig:

For the rides. We get our fast passes. Sometimes the ride waits are frustrating, but they keep you entertained. One of the things that is notable about Disney, aside from the consistency of a very good experience is the role that everyone plays. They often attribute it to the sweeper in the parks to say they pay attention to every detail. And I think that company, well, every company has its issues and I can go through a litany of any company’s issues including our own. At the core, everyone feels like they have a real stake in the future of the company and their role in that company. Everyone has a sense as to why they do what they do, what their purpose is, what their mission is in delivering for their clients or their customers.

Goldy Hyder:

What are you reading right now?

Victor Dodig:

The last book I read was Capitalism in America, so why did I read that book? It’s written by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge the editor of the economist and it’s compendium, a sociopolitical economic compendium of the evolution of the United States. You start to realize that what is occurring today has occurred in the past. These tensions on trade, these interventions with the central bank. The presidency hasn’t always been arms length independent of these independent institutions, there has been leaning in the past. So, I think when you read that you recognize that what we’re going through today is not always unprecedented.

Goldy Hyder:

I just thought I’d ask because of where we started, you had exposure to a different Canada, a tough neighborhood and you persevered and you went through it. I don’t know about you, but I think often about the lives that our children are having and the society in which they’re growing up. What are you doing to maintain that resilience, that perseverance that you had in an environment in which clearly your kids are not growing up the way you grew up.

Victor Dodig:

It’s hard to do, so that’s difficult. But what my children have fortunately benefited from is knowing who their grandparents were, having good relationships with the both grandmothers are still alive. And the generation previous to ours was a saving generation, a generation of frugality, a generation of common sense. And they see that, they see that in terms of even how their grandmothers are today, everything is saved. Nothing is thrown out. When they talk about reduce, reuse, recycle, reuse, reuse, reuse is the order of the day.

Goldy Hyder:

You must tell your mom’s passbook story because I’ve heard it but I think the listeners would love it.

Victor Dodig:

Yeah. My mother’s passbook story. So as you know, we’re all trying to move away from passbooks, but there’s an older generation of clients that want it. And when my dad passed away a few years back, my mom said, “Look, I need to go to the bank. Why don’t you come with me? People would like to see you.” I was like, “Okay mom, thanks.” But I said, “Mom, I’m not going in when you have that passbook and all your bills wrapped up in an elastic, that sends all the wrong signals because we’re trying to get rid of that.” So, teaching your mother new tricks is a really difficult thing to do. We’ve gotten her onto an iPad, we’ve gotten her onto a Blackberry. She now does text, she sends emails, but she hasn’t been able to move any of the content outside of the subject line on an email. They’re very long subject lines. It’s interesting. But I think that’s the most interesting thing is our children have that exposure to that. So they-

Goldy Hyder:

Passbooks stays, right?

Victor Dodig:

Absolutely. But they stay grounded because of it. And now, how do you keep doing that? They all have all had part-time jobs. My youngest 17 Nicholas works at Mark’s part-time and he found that job on his own. He actually did it the old way. He went out and handed out resumes, and somebody from the Canadian tire group called him back. He wanted to work at Sport Chek, he got a job at Mark’s instead and he does his eight hours. And he gets a sense for what everyday life is like. Why people look for certain price points, why people look for certain quality, what people are dealing with day in and day out. And he sees that even though I run a bank, and that’s more important to me than anything.

Goldy Hyder:

Well knowing you and Maureen, I think you’re probably doing a great job.

Victor Dodig:

We’re trying.

Goldy Hyder:

And I think that’s something that does keep me up at night, right?

Victor Dodig:

Yup.

Goldy Hyder:

You mentioned your father passed away in 2015. Just before that happened, they celebrated their 50th anniversary in Croatia in 2014. I’m assuming you were there.

Victor Dodig:

Yeah, we were there, yeah.

Goldy Hyder:

That must’ve been just a real highlight.

Victor Dodig:

It was great. So, we built a house over there. We had an old church from the 16th century who had their 50th anniversary, my brother showed up. I showed up, our kids all showed up. It was a great moment. Great moment.

Goldy Hyder:

Now we were talking about your mom’s passbook and how thanks to her people who want passbooks still get them, but your father had a lot of passbooks I hear.

Victor Dodig:

My late father was a pack rat. He saved everything. When I became the CEO of the bank, he gave me a stack of passbooks because he had become a commerce client from the day he arrived in 1961-

Goldy Hyder:

Just think of the irony in that.

Victor Dodig:

The irony of all of that, the [inaudible] falls in right branch, and he gave me this stack of passbooks and he said, “Take a look at these.” And it went from the mid ’60s to I think it was 1974, 75 and he said, “Take a look at them.” So I looked at them and I said, okay, that’s interesting. They were handwritten at first. And then they started becoming computer generated and I gave them back to him. I said, this is great. I said, maybe I’ll keep a few for souvenir. He said, “Take a look at them again.” He said, “Well, what do you notice?”

Victor Dodig:

I said, I just noticed that went from handwritten to printed. He goes, “How many withdrawals were there?” There was a deposit every week. There were two withdrawals. One for the first house-

Goldy Hyder:

In eight years probably?

Victor Dodig:

In eight years, yeah. In eight years, there was one withdrawal for the first house on Macdonell, and there was one withdrawal for the Chevy Nova, which had no bells and whistles by the way, the first car. And it was that saving culture, that frugality that I refer to that was there. Now there was arguably interest rates were more robust, but I think there was a mindset of how to save that we need to get back to today.

Goldy Hyder:

Your brother and you, what’s that relationship like? He works at the bank.

Victor Dodig:

He works at the bank. He’s been at the bank for almost 30 years. He started as a teller in the same banking center, hired by the same lady. So, it’s been an interesting story. So, we have important roles in the bank. We try and keep our business lives as separate as we can so that when we get together with my mother’s house, it’s mostly dealing with the issues of the day, it creates for lots of interesting conversations. I trust him as a sibling. I trust him as an executive and I hope he does a good job doing what he’s doing because we all have our own individual mandates [crosstalk 00:44:33].

Goldy Hyder:

But it’s on you, you’re the bigger brother.

Victor Dodig:

Bigger in age only.

Goldy Hyder:

Bigger in age. Now look, before we wrap it, one of the things you and I have, as we’ve gotten to know each other, bonded over is the fact we’re both big time New England Patriots fans.

Victor Dodig:

Yes, we are.

Goldy Hyder:

As we know there are two types of fans out there. Patriots fans and Patriot haters.

Victor Dodig:

The great divide.

Goldy Hyder:

The great divide, but in all seriousness, you know the coach, you’ve brought him in to speak to the bank and others. What have you learned from watching success on the field and admiring the work that coach Belichick does and how are you applying that to your own leadership style here at the bank?

Victor Dodig:

I got to know coach Belichick over a dinner in New York that I was invited to with six other people, and I said to him, I said, “Bill, we have two things in common.” I said, “We both have Croatian heritage and my wife lives three miles away from Foxborough.” That’s where she grew up. And that started a conversation and he sent me an email once and he said, my son’s having a honeymoon in Croatia, can you give me some tips on what to do? So we just have kept in touch ever since that time, and I’ve had him speak to our clients. I’ve had him speak to our leadership team.

Victor Dodig:

What I’ve come to admire about coach Belichick is a couple of things, because everyone either loves the Patriots or hates the Patriots. They are a formidable team. He has been able to do a couple of things. One is the discipline with which he manages, the rigor with which he manages.

Goldy Hyder:

Irrespective of personality is the amazing thing.

Victor Dodig:

Irrespective of personality is unbelievable. They will practice plays during practice that rarely get used, but they know them when they need them. But that discipline of doing it over and over and over again to be excellent, to be a leader is what I admire. The second thing is how he takes every individual irrespective of who they are and tells them, look, you bring something to this team as an individual, but there’s no, I and team. Here’s what we need from you to make this team better. Here’s what we will do for you to make this team better. If we don’t cut it after a year, we’ll give you some feedback. If you don’t cut it after more than that, you may not be on the team.

Victor Dodig:

So he’s very, very clear in his messaging that individual strengths are important. But in football it’s a team sport, it’s not an individual sport. And I think those two factors have really led to the New England Patriots being a sporting dynasty, and I think I attribute much of it to a coach Belichick’s leadership style.

Goldy Hyder:

That’s a great note to end on, winning.

Victor Dodig:

Winning.

Goldy Hyder:

Championships.

Victor Dodig:

Yes, and I think we have to think that way from a country perspective. I think that we have to think that way from a company perspective as well, that mindset of, it can be achieved, but really being rigorous about how to achieve it and what works and what doesn’t in today’s world, because the world is changing.

Goldy Hyder:

Thanks for doing this, Victor.

Victor Dodig:

Thanks Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:

Thanks again to Victor Dodig 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. That’s biz, with a Z to join our email list and follow us on social media. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder.