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Modern Leadership Challenges from 3 Corporate Luminaries

Jamie O’Born, Mandy Shapansky, Betty DeVita, Carolyn Lawrence

Carolyn Lawrence sits down with three of Canada’s corporate luminaries for some straight talk about modern leadership challenges – and life.


BY Carolyn Lawrence | PHOTOGRAPHY Regina Garcia




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BETTY DEVITA is President, Canada Region MasterCard, previously Chairman/CEO at Citibank Canada, Country Business Manager at Citibank Consumer Asia-Pacific, Country Business Manager at Citigroup Latin America.

JAMIE O’BORN is the President of The Printing House. In October she was voted Canada’s Most Influential Printer for 2010 by PrintAction  magazine, based on a 10,000 ballot, nationwide poll of her peers.

MANDY SHAPANSKY is Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Xerox Canada, previously held positions as CFO and Chief of Staff for Xerox.


Women of Influence are by their very definition catalysts for change. They are authentic leaders, a rare breed of role models who have chosen to  engage life on their own terms, and who serve as an inspiration to many.

The concept for this interview originated in a desire to see that inspiration manifests itself in an open forum, and to explore the trend I’ve noticed among the new female leaders. To accomplish the task, we invited three of these new women of influence to shed light and perspective on the type of evolutionary change that Canada’s women executives and entrepreneurs are building on the work of their predecessors. And then we conducted this as a roundtable discussion to get to the core of the matter.

The trend emerged as they shared passion for success and family and the roles they’ve carved out for themselves, a trend in which women  at the top have clearly begun to find their distinctly authentic and feminine voice.

These three women are the next generation of female leaders.  They are mothers and partners, women who strive for balance as much as they value their humour and femininity. They want to have fun, feel good and enjoy each day. They want to have an impact on great corporations and influence the economic development of Canada.

“On a personal front, success is if I can put my head on the pillow at the end of the day and know that I gave it my all. That’s success.” – Jamie O’Born, The Printing House

CL: What is success to you?

BETTY: It’s really about how I’m making an impact and giving back to my community, my family, consumers, businesses. And if, while I’m making an impact, I can actually be motivated and excited by it, and have fun, it’s really the pinnacle of success for me. So you know, perhaps it’s because I’ve achieved many things outwardly as well, but it’s really not anymore about the outward things for me. It’s very much about trying to make an impact and having fun and helping others at the same time.

Related: How Betty DeVita Found Success By Going Global

MANDY You know, similar to Betty, success for me is being able to live an integrated life where I can weave together my social life, my work life  and commitment to community. It’s great with success to grow and evolve as a person and, you know, that’s what I’m always striving to do is grow  and evolve as a leader, but also as an individual.

JAMIE: On a personal front, success is if I can put my head on the pillow at the end of the day and know that I gave it my all. That’s success. It  doesn’t always happen. On the days that it doesn’t happen, they tend to be restless nights for sure. And that’s my mechanism to know that the next day I’m going to work smarter and harder. On the professional side, success is… I translate success as winning. I look for the small wins and build a  culture of winning.

CL: So you separate professional success and personalsuccess?

JAMIE: I do.

BETTY: I think to a certain degree you have to, but this notion of competing to win and winners and small wins definitely resonates with me. I think  you can have some fantastic professional successes and not necessarily have personal success and the balance and the Nirvana of trying to  achieve both is kind of like going for the Holy Grail. So we’re all on that quest and, to Jamie’s point, on some days it’s a heck of a lot better than others. But when you have that day, and you’ve actually done both, wow! There’s kind of no feeling…

JAMIE: …That’s the addictive part.

BETTY: That is the adrenaline, no doubt about it.

CL: My next question was going to be ‘have you achieved the success that you’ve defined’. But it sounds like success is defined day by day for each of you instead of a destination you make it to.

BETTY: I think it’s also evolutionary, right? I don’t think what I thought was success five, ten years ago is what I think it is today. I don’t think it’s stagnant. I think it’s dynamic and I hope two years, five years, ten years from now, what I define as success will be different because I’ll have grown and developed and be more invested in and aspiring to new levels of success and defining different levels of success, whether it be, you know, not  as much focused on the professional side, family, community, a new cause.

MANDY: I think I agree. I think, life’s about the journey not the destination, and you constantly move the goals, and it’s just really important to have fun along the way. And sometimes I think we’re always aspiring to be something else, do something else. Be able to live in the moment.

CL: Are you able to do that?

MANDY: I think I do a pretty good job of that and, you know, sometimes… My husband’s very good at it so he reminds me that you need someone to constantly pull you back down to earth and not always be talking about the future, but really enjoying the moment that you’re in, whether it’s a  success you had at work that day or whether it’s something with your family. It’s just really important to enjoy life.

CL: Can anyone say they’ve achieved the success that they’re after?

BETTY: Yeah. I mean I’m very excited about my success.

MANDY: I’m happy, and to me, that’s success. I’m happy.

“A lot of people talk about empowerment, but you need to have accountability. I do think people like working in that environment, so trust is extremely important.” – Mandy Shapansky, Xerox Canada

CL: So what values, principles or leadership styles do you think that you’ve either adopted or are your own characteristics that have enabled you to achieve what you have today? What’s essential to your success?

JAMIE: It’s something that is becoming clearer and clearer to me. Less is more, and what I’m recognizing is the bigger the organization becomes –  let’s say the bigger the project, the bigger the challenge, whatever context – to do simple is exceptionally hard. And I’m recognizing that, to be the best at something, you need a laser-like focus, and so you gotta keep it simple. When the organization gets bigger, there’s a lot of influences that want to make it more complicated. The project starts to get scope creep and things, you know, have layers of complexity to it. And when I peel it  all away, simple is difficult because it’s raw and it’s naked, and people get uncomfortable with that, when you strip it all down to a decision has to be made, and you have to execute on the decision, and then you have to be accountable for the outcome, and it’s pretty one-two-three.


CL: How do you keep it simple?

JAMIE: My job that I see as a leader is to not be part of the situation. It’s to be on the outside, which provides me the objectivity to peel the layers back to get to the simple issue at hand, the opportunity. That’s where I am at the moment. Less is more, and I think that takes a real art.

MANDY: I agree with Jamie about keeping it simple. One thing that we did recently is people would come in with all these PowerPoint slides in all  these meetings and all these data Decks, and I said, this is ridiculous. From now on, you can only bring in five slides. And you have to condense the data and tell us what the data is saying. So that’s one way we try to achieve simplicity. A lot of people talk about empowerment, but you need to have accountability. I do think people like working in that environment, so trust is extremely important. If you can achieve trust inside your  organization, it will be just so much more powerful.

CL: How do you establish trust in your organization?

MANDY: Yeah, it is hard to do. Trust is if you say something, you have to follow through, and I will give you all the room in the world. The only time the leash gets shorter is if you don’t follow through with what you say you’re going to do. But most people are very accountable and, as long as you give them the room to make the decisions, and I’m clear enough around the outcome, there is no reason not to trust. If someone comes to me with something I give them an ’A’ automatically, and that’s how I view it.

BETTY: Wow. This is such a multifaceted kind of a question. I would say the value for me is, you know, really, finally understanding what I’m really  good at and placing myself in the scenario that uses that skill and gravitating towards positions and opportunities that allow me to be me and  really, you know, show who I am – as opposed to trying to fit potentially into something that isn’t necessarily 100 per cent along with my strengths and who I am.

CL: How did you figure that out?

BETTY: It was a journey. What was I good at? Sometimes you’re good at things, but it’s not necessarily fun for you, so I really think this component  of whether it’s being happy or having some fun, life is too short and just, I really am… Experience maturity, being in scenarios where you weren’t having fun and being happy teach you a lot.

“I think that women before us went through quite a significant journey to rise to the top with a lot of tradeoffs that I don’t think future woman leaders would necessarily make.” – Betty DeVita, Mastercard

CL: As successful leaders, CEOs and presidents of large Canadian corporations or Canadian operations of large corporations; what do you think is different about your generation or you yourselves as leaders of large corporations, and the generation of women before you that broke glass ceiling and held CEO and president roles before you?

MANDY: I really like to pay tribute to the women who led the way. It certainly was the road less traveled and I’m sure at times it must have felt lonely. I think for our generation, they’ve allowed us to be the authentic leader that you talk about, to be who we are and not worry about how we are perceived or what other people think about us, and that’s a great luxury that they’ve provided… So I think that the characteristics of being able  to influence, work in teams, which may before have been thought of as soft skills, people understand the value. The style and the assurance and the confidence that they’ve given us really makes us effective.

JAMIE: I don’t think we are different at all. I think the world is different, I think the tools we use are different and I think, as a result of that, in sort  of a Darwinian sort of way, we’ve adapted. And the adaption, I think, in our generation of leadership is, to Mandy’s point about inclusion and  collaboration and transparency and trust, which is the times that we’re leading through and I believe that’s what’s expected from our marketplace and our customer base, as well as our employee base, and so we’ve adapted. And I think, in generations before us, the strong have prevailed  because they’ve had to adapt in order to survive. So I think we’re more similar in that way than we are different.

BETTY: I do also, I think that women before us went through quite a significant journey to rise to the top with a lot of tradeoffs that I don’t think future woman leaders would necessarily make. I agree: I don’t think we’re different, and I’ve never felt different as a woman leader. I still am in the financial services industry. There aren’t an extraordinary amount of woman CEOs and presidents in financial services, but I don’t feel the difference anymore and I feel it’s really a notion of talent at this point, and the ability to navigate around that is really an art. At some point in your career, whether you’re a man or a woman, you figure out the navigation skills and it’s either something you’re invested in figuring out how to hone or not. What do we bring to the table that these organizations are embracing? Because it’s not the typical president or CEO, and the skills the collaboration, the transparency, the relationship, the breaking down the silos all of those things that perhaps we’re a bit more in tuned to, whether it’s emotional intelligence or whatever you want to kind of call it, I think organizations are embracing that.

MANDY: My gender wasn’t even a factor. I’m sure you felt the same way. It’s really the experience that you bring to the table that people really care about.

CL: What are you most passionate about or what are you trying to accomplish? As CEOs, presidents, mothers, wives, partners, friends, daughters?

JAMIE: On a personal level, being present. So if I’m with somebody, being present with that individual. This world of multitasking offers us an awful lot of distractions, so being present. As a professional, I’ve been fortunate to be given a legacy. A very successful legacy. And I now have my  siblings in the business as partners with me and so we’ve got an unbelievable foundation. Now what we’ve got to do is put the second story up. So  that’s what I’m looking to accomplish.

MANDY: Similar. I want to continue to build a great Canadian company both for our customers, our employees, but also have an impact on this  fabulous country: Canada. Professionally, that would be a great desire. On a personal level, I agree: it’s being present, it’s enjoying the moment, it’s  being happy and, it sounds really corny, but you do have to strive for that, that living in the moment and feeling content and feeling happy and appreciating it.

BETTY: I would try and kind of coin it as ’engagement’, so my being engaged with my family, my community… just because you’re sitting  somewhere doesn’t mean you’re there. So being engaged or being present, having some impact is something that I’m pretty passionate about and I  have to work hard at it.

MANDY: It’s thrive not survive, right? Betty: I really have to work hard at it because of this thing (holding up her blackberry) and all of the  associated distractions.

Insterested in getting access to role models like Jamie, Mandy and Betty? Visit our upcoming events page and see which speakers we have lined up this season!