Colleen. Accomplishments, Success and Significance

posted December 18th, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Colleen what she felt were her proudest accomplishments at work. She said: “I think building a brand in Canada at E*TRADE with the team.  It’s very satisfying; the trip was fun, and you can look at the brand and get great satisfaction out of it in hindsight.  I didn’t do it, the team did it, but I got the chance to be in a leadership position and that was really fun. When I think about other proud moments career-wise, I think running the Children’s Miracle was great.  I think being part of the task force to modernize securities in Canada was great.  St. Mary’s gave me an honorary doctorate degree and it was a proud moment for my kids, and a completely unexpected pleasure.  I’m being honoured with the Canadian Marketing Hall of Legends award in January 2010 and I am completely flattered by that.  I think sometimes the unexpected things and moments when I’m reflecting  cause me to consider how I got here.  I am very fortunate.”


I asked Colleen what she considered to be her greatest successes at work. She said: “I think I have formed some great teams. I think I’ve helped other people have great careers and in the process I’ve had a great one. I think that I’ve developed people.  I’ve made them take chances. I’ve made them not take themselves seriously. I’ve made them do things that they might not have thought they could do.  I’ve helped people stretch themselves, in aid of getting a corporate outcome but it happened for them and it happened for the company too and so I think, yeah, those are my favourites.”


I asked Colleen what she considered to be her work of greatest significance. She responded: “I think the E*TRADE thing only because it was highly brandable, highly identifiable.  We built a brand in a space and successfully delivered a great product to our customers and built enterprise value and made money for shareholders in a category comprised of large Canadian financial institutions formed by an act of parliament in the 1800’s.  They’re well-capitalized, fierce competitors, and they operate deep and wide in the marketplace and we just squeegied into the middle of the market and said, we’ll be a consumer advocate, we’ll be a choice.  We said to the consumer here’s another choice. Here’s what our commitment to you will be.  ‘We are going to advocate for your rights as an individual investor whether it’s to give you the ability to execute self directed trades directly without them being held up before they go to the exchange or to give you direct access to prices and quotes or to give you price commissions and fees that are based on a transaction rate versus a percentage of capital which makes no sense.’  So we went to the marketplace and said we are going to  advocate on your behalf and we are building a successful business behind that value proposition as an innovator.   I think the work was significant.”


When I asked Colleen “What’s next for you?” she said: “I have no idea, never ever know.  I didn’t know I was going to do E*TRADE and I didn’t know I was going to do Nexient.    I’m here at Signal Hill because I believe this is the best place for me to sit to find my next investment opportunity and I enjoy looking at companies.  So it is fun looking at deals that Signal Hill is considering for investment, and maybe I fit into one of them in a leadership role and maybe I can add value in the process of looking at these companies.  I didn’t apply for the job here. I feel sincerely lucky to have been invited by Jamie Johnson to work with his team.  I just thought this was the best place for me to find one more great company.  I’m 51 and I’d like to have one more five to ten year run building another company.  It doesn’t have to be a start-up.  I think I’d probably do better in a company that is through, I’d say, early founder status.  A company that is capable of growing into a platform company.  I think I’m a good business builder in that zone.  When it gets too big and we move to defending, then my energy starts to wane because I like to create.   So that’s what I’d like to do next. I’m helping advise an early stage company right now in the online, community education space.  Similarly speaking, I have been helping a great company that is focused on developing risk based investment tools and analytics in connection with highly customizable retirement products.  It’s really breakthrough thinking and another independent financial services  brand.”   


When I asked Colleen whether there was a question that I didn’t ask that she had thought I might. She said: “I think one of the things that you didn’t ask about, and I’m glad you didn’t, is looking for horror stories in terms of when I had a “moment”, from a gender perspective, where I was disadvantaged.  You didn’t ask for specific war stories and I think that’s good. It’s what you make of what you get not what happened to you.  It’s what you do based on what happened to you that I think is important.  It’s only if you think of how you’d behave differently or what learnings you got from it that allow bad things to have any place in an environment. I think optimism is a key thing for me in terms of where advice can make the most sense.  I mean, you can give somebody advice and say don’t be negative but that’s a “don’t be” negative.  It’s a double negative.  It doesn’t help you”.


I asked her what she thought people would find most interesting about her story and she said she had no idea.  In her words: “I don’t know.  When I’ve done public speaking, afterwards the only story that people ever… well, not the only story… I mean, people always come up and say thanks it was good and I learned lots but it’s the whole multi-tasking thing that sticks with them.  The story of when I was caught marinating a leg of lamb in the garage of BCE Place.  You know, with some foresight you’re able to make a marinade the night before, you put it in your trunk, you go to the Farmers Market, you dump your leg of lamb in and when you get home you put it on the barbecue and your guests show up and everything is just fine.  Women always like it because it’s a “can” story and, you know what, everybody’s got their own “can” story.  We’ve packed things into our lives because that’s just who we are if we’ve accepted that we want to have a career and a family and be a woman right?”


I asked Colleen what her parents thought of what she had done with her life and she said: “You know my parents are so proud of me.  I think sometimes they think I have been too busy or that I haven’t smelled the roses enough. My dad always does ‘the speech’ whenever we’re together as a family. He starts with ‘I have been very fortunate; we have been very fortunate’… and I think we’re fortunate because he thinks we’re fortunate and we all think we’re fortunate. I feel I’ve been able to pay them back a little by having success and delivering back to the upbringing they gave me. So when I demonstrate success in some ways I’m reconfirming to my parents that they gave me the values that made me successful and that makes me very happy.  You know it’s the same thing with my boys.  If my boys have any lesson in life that I’ve been able to give them, one of them will remember the concert I didn’t show up at… but he will also know that his mother and his father played equal career roles in their lives.  We are both career role models.  We have both demonstrated characteristics and so that’s important.  So the give back to my parents and how they feel about this and the way my kids feel about it is very important to me.  I stopped doing the E*TRADE travelling role in the U.S. because my kids truly thought it was too much. They said stop it. When I was considering an interim CEO role in the U.S., I went home and I talked to the guys and I said here’s what it would mean, it would mean I would be here on Mondays but I’d be gone Monday nights and I’d be gone until Friday and I’d be doing that for four months.   It’s four months and it’s for money, are you okay with that and they were okay with that.  We had a very conscious discussion  So they, as boys, have a view that their mother makes business decisions and they hopefully, or else I will be mad, will grow up to be intelligent in the way they view women in their business or as their spouse as their partners”.


What Strikes Me?


It’s about what you make of what you get not what happened to you. It’s what you do based on what happened to you


You can learn from things that happen but if you just reflect on the fact that it was bad then nothing good can come of it. It’s only if you think of how you’d behave differently or what you can learn from it that bad things have any place in the long run


Optimism is the best prism through which to give and receive advice, where advice makes the most sense


Telling someone not to be negative is not helpful


Everybody’s got their own “can” story


Women pack things into their lives because that’s just who they have to be, if they have accepted that they want to have a career and a family and be a woman


What Strikes You?


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