How Brenda Rideout became the first female CEO of a major Canadian financial institution

In just one leap of faith, Brenda Rideout entered the new world of fintech in the 90s, kick-starting a nearly 20 year tenure at one of Canada’s most innovative financial institutions, Tangerine Bank, where she is now CEO. Learn how her personal passion, several influential women, and a desire to be bold has helped shape Brenda’s impressive career.

 

By Shelley White

 


 

Tangerine Bank CEO Brenda Rideout has never been afraid to take a risk.

“When new opportunities presented themselves, I raised my hand for them,” she says of her impressive career path. In March, Brenda became the first female CEO of a major Canadian financial institution, a remarkable milestone in an industry where women in top jobs are still few and far between.

Brenda recalls the leap of faith she took when she first joined ING Direct in 1999 (which rebranded as Tangerine in 2014). She was at Shoppers Drug Mart at the time, when she heard that ING Direct founder Arkadi Kulmann was looking for a director of software development to give the bank an Internet presence in Canada. After a meeting with the iconoclastic CEO, Brenda was inspired by his vision of branchless, Internet banking.

“That was in the 90s, so there were organizations that had static websites, but nobody had a truly transactional website,” says Brenda. “So I went home that night to tell my husband, ‘You know what? I’m going to leave my nice, secure job at Shoppers to go work for this direct bank and help Canadians save their money.’”

It was a bold and risky move, but Brenda liked the idea of being able to create something innovative from scratch. “It was a startup, so I wouldn’t have to worry about legacy systems,” she says. “I would have the opportunity to build and shape from a technology standpoint.”

Technology had been a passion for Brenda ever since high school. Growing up the youngest of six kids in a “typical, middle-class family” in Toronto, Brenda took an introduction to computers course and learned early programming languages like BASIC and FORTRAN. She was instantly hooked.

“My parents were encouraging me to become a nurse or a teacher, so you can imagine their surprise when I told them I wanted to study computers and program,” she says. “They didn’t know what that was. There was no such thing as the Internet at that time, let alone videogames and the gadgets we have today.”

After high school, Brenda studied computers at Seneca College, then began working as a programmer. Craving opportunities for advancement, she took a job with Imperial Life Insurance Company, where she worked her way up into management. It was at Imperial Life that Brenda met her first mentor, Carole Briard (who would go on to become Chief Information Officer at Bank of Canada).

“Carole played a key role throughout my career,” says Brenda. “There were very few [women in technology at the time], and that connection with another female leader who was trying to advance in technology was very important. To this day, we are still very close.”

 

“There were very few women in technology at the time, and that connection with another female leader who was trying to advance in technology was very important.”

 

Brenda also believes in continuous learning. She holds a number of technology certificates, and completed an Executive Program at Queen’s University in addition to a Masters Certificate in Innovation at Schulich School of Business.

A strong advocate for the advancement of women in the Canadian workforce, Brenda has led the women in leadership program at Tangerine for several years. She says that mentoring can be a valuable way for women to support each other.

“I think that lack of confidence and fear of failure can hold us back, myself included,” she says. “I definitely reach out to my female network. And it’s not about just seeking a mentor to say you have a mentor, but being willing to ask for help.”

The late Mona Goldstein, Toronto marketing guru and CEO at Wunderman, was another important mentor in Brenda’s life. After successfully taking on several operational-type roles at ING Direct, Brenda was asked to head up marketing for the company, a position she found daunting.

 

“It’s not about just seeking a mentor to say you have a mentor, but being willing to ask for help.”

 

“It was not necessarily in my wheelhouse and I certainly felt inept at times, wondering, ‘What am I doing here?’ My confidence was wavering,” says Brenda. “But Mona provided me some tremendous insight and encouragement and was one of the smartest, most inspirational women I’ve ever met.”

As a mom with a high-profile career, Brenda says work-life balance could be a challenge, especially when her son was young. In the tech world, working after hours is a necessity. Because it was hard to control her afternoons and evenings, Brenda says she felt strongly that she needed to control her mornings.

“I needed to connect with my son in the morning, so I would have breakfast with him every morning, I’d give him a hug, I’d put him on the bus. In banking, it’s quite common to have breakfast meetings starting at 7:30am, and I really had to be strong about saying no to early morning meetings,” says Brenda. “If you say no often enough, and say, ‘I’m happy to meet with you later in the day, but I’m not coming in for a breakfast meeting,’ people get used to it.”

Brenda says she still makes mornings with her family a priority.

“My son is 14 now and we still have breakfast every morning, although I think it’s more for me than him now. It’s getting harder to get that hug,” she laughs.

When she’s not carving a path for women in leadership roles, Brenda says she craves time in the outdoors with her family – hiking, golfing, skiing and walking their two dogs.

“I also enjoy cooking and baking,” she says. “If my husband will get the ingredients, I’m more than happy to put on some music and cook in my kitchen.”

Brenda attributes her career success to a strong work ethic and ample curiosity. “And having family and friends and mentors – people you can talk to and trust – is a must,” she adds.

Her advice for women hoping to emulate her success? Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn, and raise your hand when opportunities arise.

“Joining ING Direct was a risk,” she says. “But the journey has been amazing.”

 

 

 

Meet Carolina Parra: An Executive That’s Balancing Career and Family

Carolina Parra is the Vice President of Corporate and Commercial Risk at Scotiabank Chile. She’s also a mother, wife, and adamant advocate for the value of diversity, recognizing that when a diverse group of talented individuals is heard, incredible things can happen for both business and culture. 

 

By Shelley White

 


 

Carolina Parra is an executive at one of Chile’s banks. She’s also a wife and mother to a 7-year-old daughter. But whether Carolina’s in the boardroom or at home, she makes it clear which role comes first.

“Balancing is hard, but I’m a wife and mother first and that’s my priority and there’s no discussion about that,” says Carolina, Vice President of Corporate and Commercial risk at Scotiabank Chile. “Building a family takes teamwork and my husband is my teammate. He is a husband and father first. Our family is central to what we do and it is a balancing act to ensure that one or both of us is always in our daughter’s life.”

Growing up in Bogota, Colombia as the eldest of two daughters, Carolina says her upbringing had a huge impact on her career aspirations and future success.

“Both my parents worked when we were growing up and had successful careers – my dad in business and my mother as a dentist,” she says. “Seeing their passion for their work was what inspired me to focus on studying and challenge myself, making sure I could reach whatever goal I wanted.”

Watching her parents successfully balance rewarding careers and family life was an important influence on Carolina’s life. “They ensured we would always spend time together at the end of the day to share our activities and celebrate whatever we had accomplished,” she says. “That really was the basis for what my family is today.”

After completing her industrial engineering degree at university in Bogota and a stint in consulting, Carolina found herself drawn to the world of commercial banking. She says she always liked the financial side and enjoyed numbers. Over the next two decades, Carolina expanded her expertise, working in different areas of banking as well as several different countries, including Colombia, Puerto Rico, Chile and Canada. She says her experiences enhanced her appreciation for diverse cultures, as well as the need to understand context when entering a new environment.

“Each culture has its wonderful sides, and its quirks,” she says. “The first thing you need to learn is that each culture is shaped by what the people have lived through in the past, and you need to understand, respect and enjoy that.”

In addition to leading a team of 60 people as a vice president at Scotiabank Chile, Carolina is also a proud member of Chile’s diversity and inclusion council because “that’s the world’s reality now,” she says. “Attracting and retaining talent is key to our success and, by definition, the talent we attract is diverse.  Failing to attract or retain that talent isn’t an option. Diversity provides such a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences and it reflects our customer base.”

“Attracting and retaining talent is key to our success and, by definition, the talent we attract is diverse.  Failing to attract or retain that talent isn’t an option. Diversity provides such a variety of perspectives, knowledge and experiences and it reflects our customer base.”

To promote diversity at Scotiabank Chile, the council has created an internal communications campaign to educate the workforce on the benefits of diversity and inclusion, as well as hosting multicultural lunches with staff to celebrate the different cultural backgrounds of employees. The council also recently launched an initiative to recruit more people with disabilities.

“At Scotiabank, we’re all working to create awareness that there’s value to diversity, that we need to cherish and create that shift in culture to challenge our unconscious bias and create that inclusive environment,” says Carolina.

She notes that women can undercut their own progress by not “raising their hand” when it comes to promotion opportunities. That’s why she believes it’s important for senior management to help identify women who are ready for career advancement.

Coaching can also be a powerful tool to help talented women progress in the business world. “It’s that constant feedback to employees to focus on how they can improve, how they can expand their influence and improve their technical skills,” says Carolina.

For women who want to excel in their chosen industry, Carolina says her first advice is always, find what you love and do it very well.

“You have to love it, you have to own it and show people that you are good at it,” she says. “The second piece of advice is make your voice heard. In a discussion, raise your hand and speak up. The third piece of advice is in order to advance and be a leader, you need to learn to coach and develop other people, because that speaks highly of how much of a leader you can be.”

When she isn’t leading her team or coaching the next generation at Scotiabank Chile, Carolina’s focus is on spending her leisure time with her family, in activities like swimming and playing tennis.

She hopes to raise her daughter with the same confidence that she grew up with, and the knowledge that it’s possible to have both a family and a fulfilling career.

“Family has to be the priority in my world,” she reiterates firmly. “If it’s not, I’m only making a living, I’m not making a life. Life is what matters in the end.”

 

 

 

Good Question: After taking time off to raise my family, I’m looking for my next position. Where do I begin?

Christine Laperriere

Christine Laperriere is the Executive Director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre. She is also an executive coach and seasoned expert focused on helping female leaders and teams reduce internal conflict, improve employee engagement, and more effectively engage with customers and prospects. Over the past eight years, she has taught hundreds of leaders through her Mastering Me and Leadership Through Conflict and Change courses. Her background includes undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy and executive coaching, along with years in management consulting with a focus on implementation of large change management and restructuring initiatives.

Here, she answers a common question so many mothers grapple with as they shift their focus from being a primary caregiver to their children back to cultivating an exciting and fulfilling career. 


 

Q: After taking time away from my career to raise my family, I’m now looking for my next position—and a new challenge. I feel so intimidated and overwhelmed as I look to re-enter the workplace. What I used to want out of my career has changed dramatically, given that I’m at a different stage of life. Where do I begin?

 

This is a great question that many female professionals decide to get coaching on. Many women take a break from their career to raise their family, and when they decide it’s time to come back to work, everything has changed. Here are the steps I recommend to get yourself started on your new career journey:  

 

1. Get Clear on Your Ideal Job Criteria

During a recent coaching call, I was working with a client who was interviewing for a position that would require an hour commute to and from the office. She is the mother of two small children and if she got this position, it would require her to add after-school supervision and nanny services to her budget just to ensure she had proper care for her children during her extended workday.

I noticed through the conversation that the idea of her getting this position was causing her a lot of stress. We needed to step back and get clear on her “Ideal Job Criteria.” We decided that for her to feel excited about a position while honoring her commitments at home she would need local work or a position that allowed her to work remotely. We also decided that it would be critical for her to have flexibility to stay home when her children were sick. Finally, her ideal job would allow her to work a 30 hour week as opposed to the standard 40 hour week so she could avoid having to pay for additional child care services.  Once we got very clear on her needs, she was able to proactively discuss these criteria with potential employers rather than interview for positions that were not a good fit for her given her responsibilities.

 

2. List Your Transferable Skills

This client also felt very stuck given that her former job title was very specific to a niche industry. The more she looked for positions of the same title and industry, the more hopeless she felt. In another coaching conversation, we spent time diving into her transferrable skill set. It was interesting to see that in her former position, she had extensive business development experience, success in building relationships with key accounts, and she had demonstrated very strong project management skills.  

When she realized how many employers are hunting for these skills, she could quickly see how she could confidently apply for more positions outside of her current industry and know she would be a great fit for them.

 

3. Know What You Love Doing

We spent some time talking about what she loves doing. This part is important and often overlooked. Because she was unemployed and looking for a new position, she felt at the mercy of employers. When we focused on what she loves doing, it helped us select a handful of positions for her to pursue that she was not only qualified for, but that she would also thoroughly enjoy doing.

 

4. Create Your “Best and Worst” List

Finally, I invited her to do a fun exercise. She created a list of every position she’d ever had (yes, including the babysitting job at age 12 and her days as a dairy maid). In columns, she captured the aspects of each position that she really enjoyed as well as the aspects that she really didn’t enjoy. When she reviewed these observations, she found that she had new items to add to her “What I love doing” and “Transferable Skills” lists, and she had new “Ideal Job Criteria,” based on all that she didn’t enjoy about her previous jobs.

I’m happy to report that this client has found a position that meets her criteria and truly leverages her skills. She’s very excited about this position and I am sure she’s aligned for success. Follow these four steps yourself and watch how quickly you start to see new opportunities opening up before your eyes!

 

To learn more about how you or your company can engage Christine as a coach or to help educate you within your organization, you can reach out to her directly at advance@womenofinlfuence.com.