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BMO leaders share lessons for facing challenges head-on

  • Marjan Hatai
  • |
  • Jun 26, 2020
BMO leaders share lessons for facing challenges head-on

Marjan Hatai is an MBA candidate with a passion for tackling tough problems with innovative solutions. Her professional background is with the federal government, most recently working as Regional Affairs Advisor for Canada’s Pacific region, where she provided strategic advice and support to all Ministries including the Prime Minister’s Office. Her goals while at Ivey include continuing to nurture her passion for problem solving, to grow her analytical skills, and to establish a network of diverse peers. In her blog below, Marjan writes about lessons learned from Darryl White, HBA ’94, CEO, BMO Financial Group and Mona Malone, HBA ’94, CHRO, BMO Financial Group who spoke to students on June 22 for the MBA Teachable Moments Virtual Speaker Series, a program designed to provide Ivey MBAs with unprecedented access to accomplished leaders.

A growth mindset

People growth is fundamental to BMO. Mona Malone, CHRO, began by emphasizing the importance of recognizing that you are always learning and the importance of resilience – especially right now. By having conversations outside normal patterns, new ideas are sparked, and innovation can be unlocked. Malone also highlighted the importance of tapping into people with different expertise when dealing with complex problems, something that Ivey MBAs are familiar with. Our class profile includes lawyers, CPAs, healthcare professionals, and more which has provided us with the unique opportunity to learn from each other’s breadth of knowledge. We must be willing to be wrong and to ask for help so that growth can continue.

Pushing forward

As COVID-19 began to unfold, BMO implemented a three-phase plan: 1) mobilize and protect, 2) sustain and adapt, and 3) winning in the new normal. The company needed to quickly adapt and shift 30,000 employees to work from home, among other challenges. However, Darryl White, CEO, and the BMO team chose to see this challenge as an opportunity rather than a hardship. As part of phase three, BMO has established a team to identify the positive changes that resulted from the sustaining and adapting phase, which they will use to drive operational excellence as well as constantly improve employee and customer experiences. Facing challenges and identifying how an organization can learn and pivot their strategy effectively is an integral skill that we have been learning at Ivey. White and Malone, whom are both alumni, are putting this into practice.

Boldly grow the good in business and life

BMO’s purpose, to Boldly Grow the Good in business and life, is at the centre of decisions they make about their people, customers, and communities. Effective and timely communication has been integral to managing their employees during these unprecedented times. Although everything felt accelerated for White and Malone, as it would for any CEO and CHRO of a multi-billion-dollar organization, they introduced new communications channels that aligned with BMO’s purpose and values. For example, White started delivering weekly video messages to employees, filmed by his 16-year-old son, and Malone focused on ensuring a strong suite of two-way communications, that engaged employees in dialogue and ensured that their voices were  heard. Both also highlighted the importance of incorporating customer and employee feedback into next steps. This reinforced that BMO is an open, adaptative, and resilient place to work. Towards the end of the talk, Malone also mentioned that personal reflection is key when you are a values-based leader. It is very clear that Malone and White stand by their company values and work hard to embody them.

Actions speak louder than words

This takeaway is perhaps the most important of the session. When asked about Black Lives Matter, White did not pause to think. He plainly told our class that the time to act is now and that silence is a choice.

BMO has embodied this mentality through various measures. Under the guidance of the Leadership Committee for Inclusion and Diversity, 25 senior leaders were made accountable to lead the bank’s diversity and inclusion strategy. As well, BMO has donated $1M to organizations like the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, and dedicated and established internal mental health and well-being initiatives to support their staff. In White’s words, “it is in moments like these that you must go beyond speaking and actually act.”