The CEO of MD Financial Management Believes that Owning Your Own Voice is Critical to Success — and She Encourages Other Women to Do the Same
Pamela Allen shares her journey to CEO and imparts some valuable career advice
By Sarah Kelsey
“When I started working, I never imagined I would be the CEO of a company,” she says.
“But I learned early on that if you work hard, you will be rewarded,” she says. “I was always willing to take courses or meet new people to grow my career.”
Born and raised in Edmonton and the youngest of five children, Pamela says she was part of the generation where kids were told to “go out and come back when it’s dark.” Education was critical. Independence was a priority. Finding a purpose was key. So was the expectation of hard work.
Pamela’s first full-time role came after she graduated with a commerce degree from the University of Alberta. A friend was working at a bank and because it was a recession, not many jobs were available. She jumped at the opportunity to become a teller, beginning her career in finance. Pamela says she progressively worked her way up, becoming an advisor and eventually a regional manager for a company who was looking to start its Wealth Management business.
“I built a book of clients, got my IIROC (Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada) license, and took courses to increase my knowledge about the industry,” she says. “When they asked me to go into leadership, I sought out mentors and coaches who could provide me some best practices for managing and engaging other people.” Pamela highlights that, at the time, few of those mentors were women, which has served as a driving factor in her mentorship work today.
Strategically building her career, Pamela joined MD Financial Management in 2006 as a Regional Manager and held several increasingly senior roles including Regional Vice President, National Vice President, Executive Vice President, and now CEO.
As a financial advisor, she says she was energized by working with clients — she loved to help them achieve their goals, whether they were professional or personal. The opportunity to work with such a unique and traditionally financially forgotten group like doctors was compelling.
“It was the Canadian Medical Association who advocated for how crucial it was to offer physicians a practical and affordable retirement savings solution,” she explains. “That’s one of the reasons why registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) were introduced over 60 years ago.” This realization also led to the establishment of MD in 1969, with the organization’s purpose being to connect physicians with advisors who could assist them in creating comprehensive financial roadmaps and empower them to successfully establish (and maintain) their careers.
Today, with Pamela’s leadership, the organization has helped launch a first-of-its-kind Medicus Pension Plan.
“This is something physicians have wanted for years,” she says. “Until we became part of Scotiabank it wasn’t something we could do, but with the resources of the Bank and the people power of MD, we knew it was time. With Medicus, incorporated physicians can now have a pension plan, and their futures can be protected through predictable income in retirement. The work that’s gone into this and what we’ve accomplished is amazing. It will change how we can invest and plan for physicians.”
Something else that drew Pamela to MD was its culture.
“What makes this a great organization is truly the people who work here. During my first interview, I was told MD was a destination; it would be a place I could go to fulfill my career dreams,” she says. “That has been my experience from the very beginning.”
It was also clear MD was invested in cultivating a diverse workplace that’s reflective of its clientele. After Pamela’s interview, she asked to see the organization’s directory of leaders and was amazed at how many women were listed.
“MD has always worked to promote women in leadership. These opportunities were rare when I first joined the industry. This commitment has become even more important today because more women are entering Canadian medical schools than men,” Pamela says. “We do our best to reflect our clients because they’re diverse. I want our clients to see themselves in our advisors and leaders. Same thing with employees. We’re always open to learning and understanding what they’re going through.”
Working with Scotiabank has been beneficial in this regard, she says, because the organization is committed to investing in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — not just with words, but through strategic priorities. Pamela notes that allyship has always been a critical part of her success — helping people rise and accomplish their goals — but as the CEO of a large company, it’s more important than ever. She’s working to incorporate more Indigenous expertise in the business and to elevate more equity-deserving advisors, including women.
Pamela knows what it’s like to be passed over for a promotion and has friends who’ve experienced discrimination in the workplace. She will not let this happen on her watch.
“As the CEO, I can do things differently. I can bring others up. I can help others succeed. I can make change. That’s not a responsibility I take lightly.”
Pamela’s advice to those who want to break the “glass ceiling” includes doing your current role really well instead of focusing on what job is next and honing your expertise and skills. In addition, she coaches her team members to brainstorm new opportunities and look for roles that are going to push them to expand their skills.
“I advocate for women [to apply to roles] before they feel ready,” she says, referencing the research that proves women tend to hold themselves back from opportunities unless they’re 100 per cent “right.” “You are ready. You don’t need to be perfect. Have that gumption. Just go for it.”
For people who want to grow as leaders, she adds it’s critical to go into a meeting and own your voice. “I’ve seen women who have great viewpoints and ideas, but who will sometimes wait and speak last to put their thoughts forward. Try to speak first. I always waited, but I was lucky to have a coach who encouraged me to start a meeting we were in. That helped,” she notes. “You’re not going to get from A to Z right away. Work hard to sharpen your skills.”
Pamela compares leadership to captaining a ship: leaders, like CEOs, should always look to the horizon and consider what’s next — for the company and their team members and lead the team around you to work together to move forward.
“Lift your head and look up and out, and other things will come naturally. Anything is possible.”
*MD Management Limited was the first of the MD Group of Companies to be founded, in 1969. MD Financial Management Inc. wholly owns MD Management Limited. MD Financial Management provides financial products and services, the MD Family of Funds and investment counselling services through the MD Group of Companies and Scotia Wealth Insurance Services Inc. For a detailed list of the MD Group of Companies visit md.ca and visit scotiawealthmanagement.com for more information on Scotia Wealth Insurance Services Inc.