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From Bank Teller to Head of BMO: Meet Charyl Galpin

Managing motherhood with a career that climbed from bank teller to head of BMO Nesbitt Burns, Charyl Galpin has always stayed true to her personal brand.


By Hailey Eisen


Family dinners were non-negotiable. Even if that meant leaving for work so early that her kids weren’t even awake. A mother of two young boys in the early 1990s, negotiating a bourgeoning career in the financial services industry while balancing maternal responsibilities required Charyl Galpin to be organized, transparent, and strategic. Despite the demands of their careers, both Charyl and her husband made it a priority to be home every night by 6pm to enjoy dinner as a family.

Today her sons are in their mid-twenties building out their own careers, while Charyl was recently named head of BMO’s full-service investment firm, BMO Nesbitt Burns. Responsible for 1,300 investment advisors at 60 branches across the country, Galpin is still committed to making time to connect with her family over dinner. “We always enjoy great meals together,” she says. “Either at home or out at fantastic restaurants—it’s one tradition that’s stood the test of time.”

While Charyl can say confidently that she never missed a hockey game or school concert, career success didn’t come without sacrifices. “You have to let the people around you know what your boundaries are,” Charyl says. In the early days in the brokerage industry, she was working primarily with men whose wives happened to be at home with their children. “The challenge, at the time, was to have them appreciate me as a working mom, realizing that I had multiple pressures and responsibilities,” she recalls. “While there was no issue that I could get the job done and manage it all, it wasn’t done without some internal conflict. There were times when I’d come up against a seemingly impossible situation where both things were important and I just had to make a choice.”

In her current role Charyl is committed to supporting and sponsoring the progression of women within the organization, and since accepting the position just over a year ago she’s successfully put nine women in leadership roles. Making clear the value women bring to this once male-dominated industry is important to Charyl, and it’s made evident through the BMO Nesbitt Burns career page dedicated to recruiting female investment advisors. “We’ve evolved from a transaction-based business to a wealth advisory practice where clients are looking for a trusted advisor, someone they can build a relationship with and have broader conversations about their needs and desires. Women are ideally suited to have these conversations.” When Charyl was starting out things were different, as men were both working as advisors and doing nearly all the investing. She’s excited and inspired by the changes happening across the board.

Charyl’s career with BMO spans 35-years, beginning with the bank teller job she landed just out of high school. Going to work for the bank was a logical decision, given her father’s tenure as a lifelong BMO employee. While the young Charyl had once considered a career in law, she fell in love at 17, was engaged 6 months later, and didn’t look back.

Though she admits to having felt self-conscious in the early days, she’s more than made up for her lack of formal education in the years since. A cursory glance at her LinkedIn profile reveals an extensive list of certifications and educational accomplishments including a Fellowship with the Institute of Canadian Bankers, an ICD.D designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors, leadership and banking certificates from the Ivey Business School and The Wharton School, and—a highlight for Charyl—The Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.

These achievements, coupled with extensive volunteer board experience, and a career that’s taken her from BMO to the securities firm Burns Fry and back to BMO Nesbitt Burns (when the bank acquired Burns Fry in 1994) have all contributed to what she refers to as “Charyl Galpin Inc.”

“I own my personal brand, I own my career, and while there are lots of people around who can help me, at the end of the day it’s mine to manage.”

“Many people, both men and women, feel as though they can’t control their own careers because they’re in the hands of someone else,” she says. “I own my personal brand, I own my career, and while there are lots of people around who can help me, at the end of the day it’s mine to manage.” This is the philosophy upon which Charyl has governed her career and the advice she gives the many young professionals she mentors and coaches. “Set goals, be clear about what you want, and tell anyone who can help you what it is you’re trying to achieve,” she advises. “Once you’ve done so, be open to feedback, even if it’s not what you want to hear.”

Honesty and transparency have proven valuable tenets for Charyl both in navigating a work-life balance and driving career advancement. She can recall one scenario in particular: ten years ago, after a leadership change, she found herself in an intolerable situation with a new boss that, despite her best efforts, she was unable to make work. Instead of continuing on unhappily or resigning then and there, Charyl chose to make her feelings and desires known in a professional way. “I went to speak with one of my mentors—a former boss within the bank—and let him know about my dissatisfaction.” This transparency resulted in her being considered for and hired into a new internal position, just a few months later.

This is just one example of how Charyl has always thought ahead, skillfully and professionally advancing her career. Yet despite her self-confidence, she says she never imagined, as a young BMO employee, that she’d be named head of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

Looking back, Charyl says she wouldn’t change anything about her career or the challenges she overcame to get to where she is today. “What’s most rewarding is that others looking to progress their own careers, look at my path and believe anything is possible. Hard work and common sense have taken me a long way—and I’m not done yet.”