Wisdom of Chairman of the Board

Management Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: Serious directors on boards of significant organizations have so much to teach us. Unfortunately, few of us ever get to observe, let alone participate, on public boards. And the Board Chairs are often most interesting because they have the responsiblity to extract value from both the board and management. To do this effectively requires exceptional IQ, EQ and insight to deftly guide the entity.

This past Friday, we live streamed an interview with the Chair of our Board, Brian Hesje. He is a very respected leader, recognized and admired by impact players in Alberta and throughout North America. For almost 20 years, Mr. Hesje has been at the governance helm of ATB Financial. When he took on that role, ATB, despite in existence for 60 years, was essentially insolvent. Bit by bit, with the steady guidance from Hesje, his board colleagues, and refreshed management, the company is now thriving. During the last 8 years, with Dave Mowat as CEO, the organization is arguably one of the best run companies in Canada. So what lessons did we learn from the reflections of our Chair? The following are just a few important gems that are worthy of consideration by all of us, regardless of what role we have:

  1. “One way to evaluate the value of both directors and management is the degree their driving agenda is determined by what’s best for the organization versus what’s best for them personally. Ego is well governed and the very best leaders are always about doing the right thing rather than just being right.
  2. While the fiduciary responsibility of Board members (in Canada) is about doing what’s best with the entire corporation (all stakeholders and not just the shareholders), the most important thing is to be “people first.” Hesje believes the route to happy customers and an acceptable shareholder return is through employees being at the front of the value line. 
  3. To understand what we have to do improve things for customers is sometimes overworked. Management establishes focus groups, hires consultants etc. However, if we just thoughtfully asked ourselves what makes us happy or unhappy as customers we would know what to do. Just fix the basics first.
  4. The most important product that service companies like ATB have to ‘sell’ is TRUST. Everything must be done to protect the trust between all stakeholders. This means living up to the commitments we make.
  5. Everyone in the organization must be committed to personal growth. Because the institution is made up of the collective mindset, this thinking will drive continuous innovation. No growth, no job, no company.
  6. Have the ability to consciously choose what to keep and improve, versus what to disrupt (eliminate and completely reinvent). Not everything needs to be ‘thrown out.’  Making these choices is the hard work of hard work.”

One attribute that Brian really values is the ability for leaders to think and find the essence of things. Complex problems are not necessarily calling for complex solutions. Rather, the most important contributions are often elegantly simple.

Brian… Thank you for your wisdom and taking the time to share it with all of us.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Take the time to seriously consider Mr. Hesje’s lessons and how they might make you and me better leaders and people.

Wisdom in Personal Leadership


One Millennial View: Mr. Hesje sounds like a great man with positive intentions for everyone involved with the company. Sometimes I think Millennials might hear the position of “Chair of our Board,” and immediately invision Darth Vader. Thanks to people like Mr. Hesje, we have a more balanced view of the tremendous responsibility they have to effectively govern.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis