President and CEO, Bell Aliant Regional Communications Inc.
WHAT SETS HER APART
Karen invested more than one billion dollars to build out a fibre-to-the-home network
Number of employees responsible for: 6,700
Woman of the Year, Canadian Women in Communications, 2012
Total number of boards: 6, including chair of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art
Mary Ann Turcke, Executive Vice-President, field services, Bell Canada
From Mary Ann Turcke
As told to Astrid Van Den Broek
Karen Sheriff has proven over and over again that she’s got a unique combination of business capabilities and knows how to keep a strong, loyal team around her.
I started working with Karen in 2005 when she offered me a job running the operations in Bell’s small/medium business division—she was president at the time. She’s interesting as a businesswoman: she’s 50 per cent hardcore, know-your-numbers kind of executive. If you don’t know your numbers, don’t even walk through the door. You have to be very, very prepared when you talk numbers with Karen because she can skate you around the boards pretty fast. And then, just after you’ve had this really hard conversation with her about numbers, she’ll say “so your daughter’s doing this-and-this this weekend—how are you feeling about that?” She’s thoughtful about how her folks are feeling. She’s so tough on the one hand from a business perspective, but then absolutely caring from another.
She works hard at building the team around her; she makes sure she has a 360-degree perspective of people who work for her. When you’re a senior business leader, it’s soeasy to just focus on the numbers and production, but it’s actually very short sighted to do so.
At the same time, she’s very confident in her strategy and courageous. She knew she had to build fibre-to-the-home (selling high-speed Internet service and Internet Protocol television) in Atlantic Canada and she pushed and pushed and pushed. While she knew this line of business was the only way to compete—because it enabled her to build better Internet and TV products—it was risky because nobody in Canada had done a large build-out like she was contemplating. But she created a sound business plan, took it to the board and, after their approval, she blew away her business plan with better-than-expected results.
That courage is key. She never doubted she had to build fibre; she took a stand and then executed on it—and that’s what makes her a phenomenal executive. Executives who aren’t phenomenal don’t have the courage of their convictions, so they waffle and their team does a whole bunch of extra work and doesn’t end up executing anything very well. But Karen’s focused on what she needs to do, and because she’s so good at numbers and knowing what numbers are needed, her team just lines up underneath her.