It’s no longer the norm to spend twenty years at the same company, but Allison Hakomaki has done just that — and it’s enabled her to live in cities across Canada, better her education, and climb to a role in senior management.
By Hailey Eisen
Changing jobs every two to three years has become the norm rather than the exception — but contrary to popular belief, it’s not the only route to interesting experiences and opportunities for growth. There’s something to be said for carving out a meaningful career within the same company.
Take Allison Hakomaki, for example: her 20-year career with BMO has taken her across the country from coast to coast, giving her the chance to live in a number of different cities, work across a variety of business lines, and pursue academic advancement including earning a CMA and EMBA.
Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Allison began her career with BMO when she entered into the commercial banker training program in Toronto. Fresh out of business school she was eager to apply her learnings to the real world. While she was being encouraged by her employer to go back to school to pursue an MBA — something the bank regarded highly for its leadership-track employees — Allison decided she would first complete her CMA and get as much work experience as she could under her belt.
It would take more than 10 years and a move to Calgary (for a promotion to Managing Director, Corporate Finance) before Allison decided it was time to further her education. “The majority of the leadership team within BMO had MBAs, and I knew that in order to move into an executive role this was the next step,” she recalls.
Because her job already required quite a bit of travel, Allison was eager to find an EMBA program that she could complete without having to hop on a plane to attend classes. Queen’s Executive MBA at Smith School of Business presented itself as a great option that would allow her to learn out of a boardroom learning centre in Calgary while joining students from across the country in a live, interactive virtual learning environment.
Working with this diverse group of students turned out to be an invaluable experience — one that Allison was able to leverage as she moved up within the bank. “Professionally, the diversity really helped me. I now have a network of classmates from across the country, and from different industries — not just financial services, but also manufacturing, medical, self-employed, a real variety. It provides a number of different perspectives, which is really nice.”
Allison also learned invaluable lessons about working on a team with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds. “You have to be dependent on your teammates to be successful,” she says. “And to make that work, you’ll need some rules to live by. Like the expectation that everyone has to contribute. If people aren’t pulling their weight, you have to learn to call them out on it.”
“You have to be dependent on your teammates to be successful, and to make that work, you’ll need some rules to live by…If people aren’t pulling their weight, you have to learn to call them out on it.”
In keeping with the Queen’s approach to team-based learning, Allison suggests that these team expectations be laid out and revisited, just like you would with a set of business goals. “Revisit them on a regular basis, to ensure everyone is performing at the level that’s expected. At the same time, allow them to evolve. As you learn to trust your team, you can operate more efficiently and effectively.”
The emphasis on teamwork in the Smith program was also an excellent opportunity for Allison to hone her leadership skills. “We all had to rise to the occasion,” she says. “At some points you had to lead and at some points you had to follow, and the key to success was to learn the strengths of your team members and leverage those.”
Allison’s growth was certainly noticed at BMO. Part way through the EMBA program she was promoted to her first executive position: District VP of New Brunswick and PEI. She moved with her husband to Moncton, New Brunswick, and, thanks to technological innovations in the program, was able to continue her EMBA. More moving vans were in the cards for Allison upon completing her EMBA: she and her husband relocated first to Halifax and then back to Calgary, where she took on her current role of Vice President and Head, Prairies Region, Corporate Finance Division. In that time, she also managed to have twins. As Allison says, “I was used to juggling multiple priorities.”
Almost three years into her current executive position, Allison hasn’t stopped her learning trajectory. “I consider myself a fair, empathetic leader, but I’m also serious — which can be a little intimidating,” she says. “I’m learning to show my fun side too. It’s a work in progress.”