Rubina Salim Havlin is the former Interim CEO of PACE Credit Union, and it wasn’t the first time she has been called in to guide an organization through a major shift. Rubina has built a career as a transformational leader — a style that’s needed when aiming for better days ahead — and she’s sharing not only her journey, but her best advice.
By Hailey Eisen
Growth and change are a constant in business – and in today’s environment, that truth is being amplified. But in times of flux, Rubina Salim Havlin thrives. For the majority of her career she’s been at the helm of complex change, leading organizations primarily in the financial services sector. Today, she’s sought after specifically in uncertain situations, for her wealth of experience and human-centric approach to leadership.
It’s a style known as transformational leadership — focused on team building, collaboration, and motivating employees at all levels to participate in making change for the better. This approach is key when an organization is entering a period of hyper-growth, undergoing business model changes, ramping up innovation, evoking a disaster recovery plan, or winding up operations.
In contrast with transactional leadership, which focuses on controlling day-to-day operations and maintaining the status quo through short-term goals, rewards and punishments, transformational leadership is about sharing a future vision, and getting everyone on board with achieving it.
Part of that engagement and mobilization is recognizing that for many people, change is a challenge. “When I see the fear and anxiety in people’s eyes, I naturally gravitate toward that,” says Rubina, “because when it comes to large scale transformation, it’s the people that really matter.”
With PACE, Rubina was brought in to cast a strategic vision, ensure stability of the organization, sustain the credit union’s membership base and asset holdings, and position them for success. Under her leadership, they began the process of returning to member controlled governance, with a new board of directors elected earlier in the year.
Whether she’s stabilizing an organization, as in the case of PACE, or leading one through growth, disruption, or a winding-down period, Rubina says the common element is always uncertainty. And it’s her ability to embrace uncertainty that’s contributed to her success.
“Managing through transformation is not for the faint of heart,” says Rubina, calling from her home office amidst the COVID-19 pandemic — another twist she’ll embrace with the same thoughtful approach. “What’s required in these times of uncertainty is a common vision, laser-focused leadership and grit, and honest communications.”
Over the years, Rubina has had the opportunity to test and fine-tune these practices through a number of roles. She began her career in the banking sector. “Even in the early days, I was never a traditional banker,” Rubina recalls. “I always had the desire to create and innovate and the Canadian banking industry was undergoing significant change at the time, which really helped my career.”
“When I look back on my career, there were a number of forces at play that took me to where I’m at today. My road was certainly not linear, but each opportunity was a building block.”
As Vice-Chair of the Canadian Chip and Pin council from 2003 to 2006, Rubina led the migration of chip card technology in Canada — taking an unknown technology and working to implement it industry-wide. “This transformation was revolutionizing for the banking industry and consumer behaviour,” she says. It proved to be the ideal opportunity for someone who loved to challenge the status quo.
She was hired by Bank of America, Canada Bank in 2012, with the task of leading the wind-up of the Bank’s Canadian operations, selling off its Canadian payment assets and repatriating the proceeds to the US. Domestically, Wealth One Bank of Canada appointed her President and CEO, to lead through its launch into the Canadian Chinese marketplace.
“When I look back on my career, there were a number of forces at play that took me to where I’m at today,” Rubina recalls. “My road was certainly not linear, but each opportunity was a building block.”
Besides all the different professional hats she’s worn, Rubina has also sat, as a member and chair, of nine different boards, both in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. “In terms of my board work in the for-profit sector, I’ve mostly stayed within areas where I specialize, financial services, payments, and the regulatory framework, adding value during transformations and transitions,” Rubina explains.
When it comes to her charitable focus, however, Rubina is committed to supporting women and families. “There are so many people who can fall through the cracks and there are gaps in the market that no one is addressing,” she says. “I like to look out for the underdog.”
Having served on the board of Up With Women for the past four years, Rubina takes the organization’s mandate of helping recently homeless and at-risk women build stable, prosperous careers, very seriously. She also extends her focus to women and families through her work as Director of the National Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity Canada.
She’s also committed to mentorship, helping youth advance in their careers. “I enjoy the pluralistic nature of mentoring, showing that everyone has an opportunity to break through from middle management to leadership roles, in a multicultural way.”
Through it all, Rubina has maintained a set of values and priorities that she believes others can adopt in these uncertain times. The first is embracing the uncertainty you’re in. The second is communication, to both internal and external stakeholders. Rubina explains that means maintaining consistency in the tone of your communications, the honesty in what’s being communicated, and the means of rallying your team.
During a transformation, “you need to celebrate at every turn.” she says. If you create that engagement in your leadership approach, unspoken champions and leaders will step up at all levels of the organization and they’ll contribute to your overall success.