Interview with John Smith

posted June 12th, 2013 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

Today’s post is the second of three excerpts from my interview with “John Smith.” John is a hugely successful participant in the Canadian securities industry and I thought his perspective on a variety of issues would be interesting to consider!! I was thrilled he agreed to be interviewed. I hope you enjoy reading what he has to say and as usual your comments are most welcome!!


I asked John what he thinks accounts for the documented lack of progress by women in the corporate world.


He says: “Oh boy, what accounts for that?  Well it’s probably the predominant thinking that men are better at work than women are but I think that’s being dispelled all the time.  For example, when I go to a university convocation, there are always more women than men graduating and the women score higher than the men. The women score better marks.  Men tend to underestimate the intelligence of women and that’s probably the biggest thing.  You would think you’d learn from what’s really going on in the world. For example, if you look at the success of women at university versus men, I’m sure women out perform men at university by a factor of 50% based on the recent data, if they are given the opportunity to go to school, which for years they weren’t.  Over the last 50 years, that’s changed and certainly over the last 20, it’s changed a lot, and you see the results in the marks that women achieve and this is while still being wonderful people.  They can get great marks.”


I asked John what he thought explained the documented lack of progress in terms of representation of women on boards.


He says: “That’s a great question for me because we don’t have any women on our board, and why is that?  Let’s take my case when I had to form an independent board, I immediately thought of people who have expertise in an area, who know the securities business, who have been on boards, who have lots of the required education and so on and when it comes to that I had never worked with many women 20 years ago, so I hired guys that I knew from that time that were in the business.  Women should be on boards because they would bring a totally different perspective, quite frankly. We don’t have any women on our board probably because not enough of them got to the CEO level with the specific qualifications where you can say, there’s a perfect candidate to come on our board.  They just haven’t been able to push through that glass ceiling, where you recognize that they have great ability.  The boards we have, they’re all male.”


I asked John whether he specifically thought about having a woman on his board when he was putting his board together or whether it just didn’t occur to him.


He says: “We would consciously think about it, if we had a board member leave today.  I would ask myself who I know who could replace that person’s expertise?  Now, with a lawyer you could probably find a woman because, there are lots of female lawyers.  If it’s something to do with accounting, you could probably find a woman with accounting expertise because there are lots of female accountants.  In the securities business, I don’t know how many CEO’s there are or have been who are female.  I’m not aware of many.  So, if you’re looking for someone with that kind of experience, who’s retired and would be prepared to go on a board, I don’t know that I could come up with the names of too many women who’ve gone to that level that I’d think would be acceptable to the world, to our shareholders as a board member.  I haven’t experienced that in my life very much, where women have gotten to that really senior level that people expect you to put on your board.”


I asked John how he felt CEOs would react to being directly challenged to name a woman to their boards by someone providing them with the names of highly qualified candidates; what he thought their response or his own would be.


He says: “I wouldn’t see that as a problem, I wouldn’t.  I mean, we’re all big boys.  So if you challenged me as I’m sitting here discussing my inability to come up with names of qualified women, I would probably welcome it because, somebody else has done the thinking for me and they’ve got people who have the kind of expertise, the kind of recognition where they could go on our board.  There aren’t many examples of qualified women and the few I can think of would find it difficult because they have their own businesses to deal with and being on a board’s a huge commitment which is why I’m so thankful to my board members.  It’s not that rewarding an experience, quite frankly. I personally refuse to go on boards because they take up so much time. They just take up too much time, to read those documents over and over, every quarter…oh my goodness.


“I think that having a female viewpoint is a very, very valuable thing as it’s not always the same as the male viewpoint.  They’re different.  With some female perspective, you at least get to cover off a little more of the landscape out there that you might not otherwise cover off.


“We do have women on our Executive Committee.  We do.  When we went public, we didn’t have any women on our board but we had lots of women that were on the Executive Committee, when we were a private company.  We had their viewpoints in front of us.  When it came to the public thing, all of a sudden you need this person whose name everyone recognizes because you want to look robust.  You want to look like you’ve got a team that’s, in fact, taking the job of stewardship seriously and capably at the director level.  I think of my outside directors as running the firm, by the way, because they are.  They can make the difference.  Those four outside directors of seven in total, can en bloc or even with one of our guys, if they don’t like something, they can change things, right?  That’s what their power is.


“You know another thing is, I don’t know how many women are CEO’s, maybe there’s 200, but if a woman’s a CEO she’s got her hands full. There’s no way she’s going on a board.  It’s tough enough to get to be a CEO, let alone thinking you’re going to go on a board. You really want to go on a board after you retire as a CEO. You’re not going to go on a board, when you’re CEO because you just don’t have the time for it.”


What Strikes Me?

Men tend to underestimate the intelligence of women


Men hire “guys” they know to be on boards


Women should be on boards because they bring a totally different perspective


Few women have become CEOs which is seen by many as a pre-requisite for a board position


Women just haven’t been able to push through the glass ceiling having been recognized for their great ability


What Strikes You?


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