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Five Questions With: Lesley Marks, Chief Investment Officer, Equities at Mackenzie Investments

She emphasizes the importance of leveraging innovation, fostering diversity, and guiding sustainable investment strategies for future success.

Lesley Marks is Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of Equities at Mackenzie Investments. In her role, she oversees approximately 90 investment professionals who manage the firm’s diverse equity portfolios across 11 equity boutiques.

With more than 25 years of experience in asset and wealth management, including a significant tenure of 22 years at a leading Canadian bank, Lesley is a seasoned and respected leader in the finance industry. She is also a CFA Charterholder and holds both a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Queen’s University and an MBA from Ivey School of Business. Active in her community, Lesley serves as Chair of the Crescent School Foundation board, is on the advisory board of the Institute for Sustainable Finance and is a member of the finance and risk committee for Kids Help Phone.

Leadership Lessons: What have been the most impactful leadership lessons you’ve learned? How do these lessons guide your day-to-day decision-making?

Leadership is an ongoing journey that demands openness to evolution, especially as we accumulate experience. Each of these experiences serves as a foundational block, enabling leaders to adapt to shifting environments and industry disruptions while also learning from their mistakes. Cultivating a growth mindset extends to self-awareness—recognizing our strengths and leveraging them, while acknowledging areas where we’re still a work in progress.

Ultimately, I believe the human aspect of leadership is paramount. As Maya Angelou wisely said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As leaders, we cannot control every event or others’ actions, but we can shape our impact by demonstrating empathy toward our team members.

Career Evolution: Over your expansive career, what have been some of the key shifts in your approach to investment management, and how have these changes propelled your success?

Early in my career, my focus was narrow, with a concentration on Canada. Over time, I evolved to appreciate the interconnectedness of the world and more frequently considered how significant global trends were impacting outcomes closer to home.

Another shift in approach has been a greater focus on risk management and utilization of data-driven insights to enhance the investment approach by shifting from purely returns-focused to delivering compelling risk-adjusted returns. Another example of a broader perspective has been the consideration of sustainability or non-financial factors in the decision-making process. This has also contributed to the overall enhanced risk management approach to investing.

Innovative Culture: Could you share insights on how fostering an innovative culture has contributed to your firm’s success, and your role in nurturing this environment?

Innovation plays a crucial role in our success at Mackenzie. We collaborate across various functions including product development, marketing, sales, investment management, and sustainability, to anticipate future trends and meet emerging market needs. The most powerful and creative ideas emerge at the intersection of these functions, driving us collectively forward.

As part of the innovation flywheel, I draw insights from my extensive industry experience, spanning multiple market cycles and events over nearly three decades. Additionally, I maintain a broad knowledge base that extends beyond Mackenzie’s walls, tapping into industry sources and global geographies because valuable ideas can originate from diverse origins. Given the significance of globalization in our industry, our global teams in Asian and European markets also offer exposure to fresh ideas from a global perspective.

Diversity and Inclusion: How do you approach diversity and inclusion, particularly gender diversity, within the finance industry? What strategies have you found effective in encouraging more women to pursue and excel in leadership roles?

Gender diversity in the asset management industry still falls short of our desired levels and, more specifically, progress in investment-decision making roles remains limited.

Despite increased attention over the past decade, the trend has plateaued. However, we find encouragement in the near gender parity observed in STEM programs at the university level, particularly in business and engineering. From a recruiting perspective, this is the area where we believe we can have the greatest impact if we can effectively work to educate university students and ultimately attract more women into our industry.

Our efforts have resulted in an improvement in the gender balance for our firm, where women represent approximately 30 per cent of our investment professionals. We are proud that we exceed our industry average in female representation, yet we recognize that there is more work to be done.

Future Trends: With your extensive background in both asset and wealth management, what trends do you foresee impacting the finance industry in the next decade?

The asset and wealth management industries face two significant trends that will shape our work in the coming years. First, the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming how we operate. Generative AI tools have become more accessible, enhancing productivity across various sectors. At Mackenzie and across our industry, we’re exploring ways to integrate these tools into each step of our workflow, aiming for greater alpha generation for our clients.

Secondly, a generational shift is underway in how investors gather information, make decisions, and allocate their funds. Younger generations, particularly Gen-Z investors, are digitally native and heavily influenced by social media. They prefer investing through their phone and with minimal human interaction. As an industry, we must balance serving our existing client base with a high-touch approach while developing strategies to engage the emerging Gen-Z investor segment.

What excites you about the future?

Over the span of my career, I’ve experienced the impact of transformative technologies—moving from fax to email and from landline to smartphone, for example. Each of these technological shifts has opened new opportunities and ways to conduct business.

While the precise implications of digitization and GenAI on our industry remain unclear, one constant remains: our industry is fundamentally about helping people from all walks of life achieve life’s financial milestones. Whether it is buying a house, funding a child’s university education, or securing a financially stable retirement, our purpose endures. Despite the potential changes in how we deliver these outcomes, I’m excited about the role I can play in improving them. At Mackenzie, our motto is ‘Be Invested,’ and anything we can do as an organization to encourage more people to invest in their future is an exciting prospect.