Canadian Leaders Prioritizing Talent, Health and Technology to Emerge Stronger
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16 September, 2021 Canadian Leaders Prioritizing Talent, Health and Technology to Emerge Stronger
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September 2021
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September 16, 2021

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

Canadian Leaders Prioritizing Talent, Health and Technology to Emerge Stronger

Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Associate Vice-President, Humber College

Distinguished Guest Speakers
Claude Guay , President & General Manager, IBM Canada
Kevin Strain, President & CEO, Sun Life
David Garg, Managing Director & Head of Financial Services, Corporate Investment Banking, Scotia Capital Incorporated

Introduction
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and Associate Vice-President at Humber College. I'm your host for today's virtual event, “Canadian Leaders Prioritizing Talent, Health and Technology to Emerge Stronger.”

I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement, that I'm hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. Delivering a land acknowledgement, for me, is always an important opportunity to reflect on our human connection, and responsibility to care for the land. Today, I am also reflecting on the stories of the land, and the people who have lived on it, in particular the experiences of Indigenous children, who were forced to attend Residential Schools. Many of those individuals, stories and experiences are untold, buried with them in the land. And many survivors who tried to tell their stories are not believed. As we work towards reconciliation, how we listen and learn from each other is so important. We encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.

I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the Empire Club, and make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsor Scotiabank, and our supporting sponsors Humber College Faculty of Business, TD Securities, BMO and McMillan, and a huge thank you as well to our season sponsors, Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA, and Waste Connections of Canada.

I want to remind everybody participating today, that this is an interactive event. And so, those attending live are encouraged to engage with our speakers, by taking advantage of the question box, by scrolling down below on your on-screen video player. We'll try to incorporate as many questions as possible throughout the discussion. If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media, using the hashtags displayed throughout the event. And to those watching on demand at a later date, and to those tuning in on the podcast; welcome.

It is now my pleasure to call this meeting to order. I am delighted to welcome Claude Guay, and Kevin Strain, to the Empire Club’s virtual stage for our 118th Season opener. Claude Guay is President and General Manager for IBM Canada, and Kevin Strain is President and CEO of Sun Life. Our format today offers an opportunity to hear from them, about the lessons learned and insights gained, while leading two major companies through a global pandemic. You can find their full bios by scrolling down your screen. I'd now like to turn it over to Claude, to kick off today's discussion. Claude, welcome.

Opening Remarks by Claude Guay, President & General Manager, IBM Canada
Thanks a lot, Kelly, and it's a pleasure to be with you here today. Kevin, I don't know about you, but watching the video, they probably do that video, for you and I, just to put pressure. You know, I don't know about following in the footsteps of Winston Churchill, how you feel about it, but it's a little bit intimidating. But nonetheless, let me start by sharing some context for what Kevin and I are about to discuss. While the COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted all organizations and industry equally, or the same way, it's forced all of the leaders to shift priorities and reassess what's important. What we found is, there's really no playbook for the environment that we've been living in the past 18 months, and Kevin and I even decided, for the next x months. But I know all of you have had many learnings, and this is a great opportunity to share and learn from each other, so hopefully you'll get some take-home value today. Earlier this year, IBM asked more than 3000 global and Canadian CEOs, you know, how they're doing in navigating this unpredictable time? And what was their response, you know, what they've highlighted as their priorities as they look to the future. In short, they're prioritizing technology, and their employee well-being, you know, great introduction for us today. They're choosing flexible, scalable technology platform that enabled operations through these disruptions, and more importantly, they're supporting the holistic well-being of their people. As more companies commit to having a flexible workplace in the future—remember, we said that about technology; same thing about workplace flexible—with employees working both from home and from an office, leaders needs a workforce that can thrive in this ever-changing environment. And this means more than just providing employees with the technology they need to do their jobs from home. The pandemic has brought a refreshing reinforcement amongst us corporate leaders, of the importance of the mental and physical health of our people. And that's where we're going to start the conversation today. So, Kevin, how are you personally doing? And how is Sun Life team doing?

Kevin Strain, President & CEO, Sun Life
Well, Claude, first, thanks for hosting this event, and thanks for having me here, it's a real pleasure. And I think you're right, Claude, the list of speakers is a little intimidating, so we have to lift our game as we have the conversation today. But it's, you know, it’s great to have this opportunity. This was such, it's been such a tough 18 months for everybody. and, you know, when I say everybody, I mean everybody. Sun Life is a global company; there's not a part of Sun Life that wasn't impacted by COVID, and there wasn't a person that Sun Life, not a client that we have, not a shareholder that we have, not an employee we have, that wasn't impacted in some way. And that's unique. I mean, you don't have events that impact Vietnam, and Canada and United States and the Philippines and Hong Kong and China, you know, the sort of world of Sun Life, where every person has been impacted. And in fact, many of our clients, some of our people in the community have had big impacts; they got COVID, and sometimes, they tragically passed away. And so, you know, we've all had impacts, from changes to how we work, to changes how we interact with our family, to changes how we travel, this has had a major impact on people. I keep thinking back to the first month of COVID, in March, in Canada, at least, and we all had pivoted to work from home overnight. And we set up weekly calls across different areas, to check in with people, to see how they were doing. Because nobody had ever experienced, you know, a week of lockdown, or two weeks of lockdown, or a month of lockdown. And now it's become, you know, in many ways, fairly normal for us. And I think that, as normal as it's been, it's taking a toll on people, right? And so, recognizing the toll it's taking on people is really important. And for Sun Life, our purpose is to help our clients achieve lifetime financial security, and live healthier lives. No time in history, has that been more important, than a global pandemic, right? When you've got impacts, we saw equity markets drop, and then go back up and interest rates change, and now inflation, and credit, and then on top of all those economic impacts, there's also been health impacts. And so, what we do, it just really brings it home, and it's brought it home to our people. And so, you asked how Sun Life is doing. I think as a firm, we're doing really well, because we know that this moment is critically important to us, and how we deliver for our clients, and for our people. We've been able to—the technology has been incredible. We've been able to pivot using Zoom, using Workplace, using Workplace Chat, using Outlook, and email, and different things. If this pandemic had hit 10 or 15 years ago, I don't know how we would have been able to operate as a firm. So, the technology has been really critical to us being able to continue to operate, and to meet the needs of our clients, and meet the needs of our people. But I can't overstate how challenging this has been for people. And you know, we talked about this earlier, if you step back and look, it's not over yet, either, and I think that that's an important comment for everybody. So, it's, it's been a challenging 18 months, all around all around the world where Sun Life operates, and I know that IBM has been feeling the same thing.

Claude Guay
Yeah, no, and mental health, I think, you know—well, you and I are not Dr. Tam or Dr. Fauci, so we're not going to talk about the medical aspect of COVID, but I know when I'm talking to you, Kevin, and when I'm talking to all CEOs around the country, mental health and the well-being of our employee, not only physical, but the mental aspect, is so important. And we've had to, I don't know, I'll ask you to share some of yours of what you've done at Sun Life, but at IBM, you know, multiply the town halls—virtual, just like the Empire Club—were able to reach more people in the company. In the past, physically, I would not have been able to reach more than a few hundred people at a time; now, I can reach, you know, thousands of our employees at a time, thanks to virtual, so that's the good news. Running so many “Ask Me Anything” questions, because our employees have so many questions as it relates to how it's evolving. And actually, I'm super proud to say that we had a town hall this week where we had Canadian Olympian Penny Oleksiak, she actually joined us. And guess what? The conversation was a lot on mental health and the pressure—God knows that she has a lot of that, you know, at the level she competes—but we made the equation to what we're living, you know, on a day-to-day basis. We did the mental health bulletin; we have a mental health employee group now; and we do simple things, like almost every day, we have a 15-minute chair yoga session for our employees; we've actually added emergency paid time off, and flexible work arrangements; we've extended long weekend a few times this summer; I mean, and last but not least, we've had a mandatory session on mental health for all of our managers, that we develop with Queens University and Morneau Shepell. So, lots of activities, work-life pledge, and work from home pledge that we've actually got our employees to develop. What about on the Sun Life side, Kevin?

Kevin Strain
Well, first Claude, I’m really so happy to hear what you guys are doing, and I think that it's so important. And I'm not surprised that, having known you as a leader, that IBM in Canada is so focused on mental health; and we have been as well. It's, you know, as we step back and look at what is happening with our employees, but also with our clients—and you know, we're one of the largest group benefits providers in the country—we can see that, you know, lots of people are struggling through this. And so, for employees, we've done similar things. We've held global town halls, town halls focused on a lot of things, mental health being one of them. But it’s been an incredible year for diversity, equity, and inclusion; we've had town halls on anti-Asian hate, on Black Lives Matter, and different things. But on mental health, we too have had speakers, and I think it's really great to hear from people like Silken Laumann, we had, say, Masai Ujiri injury come in, and we've had a lot of different ways of bringing some messages back to people. and I think in a way that's informative, but also a little bit of fun. We've had check-ins, I talked about the check-ins we've been doing early on, but you know, we've been encouraging people to sort of look after each other, and to think about what's going on. We've added support, we've partnered with a company called Dialogue, out of out of Québec and Montreal, and they're a virtual health provider that's helped to get not just mental health, but also sort of virtual health connection points; and that different way of delivering health is important, because you can't even go to the doctor the way you used to before, in many circumstances. We've added additional wellness days, we've tried to respect people's time. So, we've added lunch sessions that are free, so we've tried not to book meetings over lunches, we've tried to add Friday afternoons, you know. There's a lot of things that we've tried to do, encouraging, I was really interested to hear you talk about the yoga, but encouraging physical fitness—I think Malaysia, we did a yoga thing as well, with our Malaysian employees—but, you know, encouraging those ways to, you know, get out. I've even done personally, I've done some walk meetings, so rather than do a Zoom meeting with people who I, you know, I know what they look like, I'll put in my Air Pods and go for a walk and do the update that way, encouraging people that stay physically active.

I really think being physically active is so important to your mental state, but also then connecting with family. So, we've allowed for Zoom connections for employees with friends and families. I've actually, our staff have done a great job, our finance staff held games nights, where they did game nights over Zoom, and I stole the idea and did that with my family a few times as well over Christmas, when you couldn't connect, and find found ways to do that. So, you know, this concept of, I think it really comes down to respecting each other, looking out for each other, finding ways to connect with each other. Its, Zoom has been great, and as I said earlier, I can't imagine how we would have done this without Zoom, and the sort of virtual chat sort of ways of discussing, but it's still not the same. And I think we all have to step back and realize that we've gone through something that's very different.

Claude Guay
Kevin, you just said we've gone through—the job of people like you and I is also to look forward, right?

Kevin Strain
Right.

Claude Guay
And what do you think leaders need to keep in mind, as we prepare for the new ways of working? And maybe you have some insight, what do you think that Sun Life’s workplace of the future is going to look like?

Kevin Strain
That's really interesting, because I think you're—well, one, as you sort of alluded to, we're not all the way through this, right? We're, you know, we're into a fourth phase now in Ontario, and, you know, we're watching it all very closely. And so, when we think about return to office, the very first thing we're thinking about is the health and safety of our employees. And so, watching what's happening in terms of the path of COVID, the trajectory of COVID—and it's very different in different parts of the world. And so, you know, right now, Vietnam and Indonesia, Philippines are more or less than full lockdown mode in those parts of Sun Life. So, watching it very closely, but you know, it's never gonna go back to the way it was before, right? People have now experienced a different way of working, and what I'm actually looking forward to in the next phase of returning to the office is having some choice. We've had no choice but to work from home on Zoom, that's the only choice we've basically had for the past 18 months. When I think about the next stage, I'm actually looking forward to having a choice, and making choices based on where I'm going to be most productive, and where the company is going to be most productive. And so, sometimes that will be in the office, whether a client needs us to be in the office, or whether we have sessions that need that sort of connectivity, that collaboration, we’ll have the choice to come to the office sometimes; but we will also have the choice to work from home, and we've gotten much better at that.

So, the Sun Life for the future will be much more flexible, and our choice of office or home will be based on client needs, and people needs. One of the things we're doing to encourage that, is we're changing the makeup of our office, and a lot of our meeting rooms, right? So, we're trying to make it more of a collaborative space, we want to make it a magnet where people want to come to the office when they need to be in the office. I sat in a few of the meeting rooms where—you know, the old style of meeting room was 10 seats at a table, and a TV at the end of the table, and whoever was on the TV screen, you basically forgot when the meeting happened in the room. We're changing the rooms, so that they're interacting with the screen the same way you're doing at home, but you can also see the people. So, that's, that's really interesting, and there's four or five different footprints we're looking at, but that change in technology, that change in how you interact, that change in having a choice. And I think that flexibility has really been important to us, and we've sort of been out with that message of work where you're going to be most effective. But I am, I do, I will tell you as a as a leader, and as a person, I really, really miss the interactions with our people. And I'm looking forward to having that choice, and having that chance to do it.

I mentioned earlier, we’re in One York Street, and about a 10-minute walk from us is this coffee shop called Mos Mos. My favourite thing to do every day, was my 10-minute walk to Mos Mos, and grab somebody and talk, 10 minutes on the way there, 10 minutes on the way back. And you can learn things that were going on, and have impacts and connections with a company that you just can't do on a Zoom meeting; and we've tried different ways to connect with people, but you cannot get that same sort of connection. So, I'm really looking forward, personally, to being able to make the choice of some days work at home, when I'm going to be more effective, some days work in the office where I'm going to be more effective. And I think it's going to really help us to build the business and build the organization. And there's times where it works better in the office, and there's times where it works better at home. So, that choice is going to be important, but again, we won't do anything until we know it's safe; you know, we still are practising masking and social distancing in the office.

I was speaking to the CEO of a hospital in Toronto, and they were saying that the incidence of COVID in their population of doctors, and nurses, and people working in the hospital, is exactly the same as the incidence of COVID in the general population, and that's because they've been masking and social distancing. And I think that, as you think about going back to work, back to that, having a really safe environment is really important. The other thing they had told me was, and I can't overemphasize, was the importance of the vaccine. This particular hospital had zero cases of people in the ICU who'd been fully vaccinated. They had a small number, I think it was three cases in the ICU, of people who had one vaccination, and everybody else in the ICU was people who had not been vaccinated. So, this concept of going back to work, I think safety is important, looking at the COVID trends is important, but longer term, the great thing is, we're going to be able to leverage both in the office, and not in the office, and the technology changing the office space is going to be important to that. And I know you guys I think are under a similar journey, right Claude?

Claude Guay
Absolutely. And, of course, the topic of technology is an important one for IBM, you know, when it's your core business, but, you know, I've had discussion with you, and many of your colleagues across the industries, you know, everyone's talking about an interesting trend that goes way beyond enabling employees to work from home, you know, speed, agility, flexibility, the acceleration of digital transformation, almost every single industries. And when actually I was talking about the survey that we did, technological factor is the most important external force that will impact organization, according to Canadian CEOs. And they talk about, you know, hybrid cloud, which is their existing infrastructure, plus, you know, the cloud, and what it allows; they talk about artificial intelligence. But more importantly, they talk about reinventing and improving their business. And, you know, we also talked about the work from home. So, cybersecurity, cyber risk becomes, you know, a big part of, not only your existing footprint, but this extended footprint with your employees. We've actually just published, governments are super concerned about that—a new study that came out today—even more concerned than you and I, as CEOs. We've seen, you know, call centre that were flooded with calls because of COVID, you know, use artificial intelligence and intelligent agent to be able—we've seen it in the education, in cities, in businesses. So, most companies didn't hit pause during the pandemic, they actually accelerated. and you and I have talked about that in the fact. But how is Sun Life—first, Kevin, you're probably going to confirm that—but are you accelerating innovation and digital transformation? That's a planted question. But what are you really seeing, as it relates to your clients, and what you're going to do for the next 18 months?

Kevin Strain
Well, you know, Claude, of course, digital has been very important to Sun Life for a long, long time, right? And we've been looking at accelerating trends in terms of opportunities with digital, and I think the technology has been changing to support that, but the habits of clients and of users has been changing globally to support technology. What COVID’s done, is it’s accelerated adoption, and it’s accelerated adoption in a way that it's never going to go back. I think about my dad, he's 82, he's on his iPad all the time, talking to family, talking to friends, he’s ordering stuff online now, you know, the adoption of digital tools coming out of COVID is never going back; we're never gonna go back to the way it was before. That doesn't mean, again, like hybrid work, where sometimes we'll take advantage of being in the office, and sometimes you'll want to be at home on Zoom, for clients will be the same thing. Sometimes they're going to want to meet face-to-face, sometimes in our office, sometimes at their home, and sometimes they're going to want to meet digitally, but that digital adoption, I think, is never going to change. And in fact, you know, we were being held back prior to COVID, with things like, most jurisdictions where Sun Life does business, the regulator of insurance and financial services and mutual funds required a wet signature, they required a signature on a piece of paper, or else the trades couldn't go through, the contract wouldn't be received. With COVID, every regulator, in every country we do business with, started to allow for E signatures, and that was a game-changer in terms of, again, back to this adoption.

So, when you think about adoption increasing, we really looked at digital as having three elements to it that are very important. The first is, and probably the easiest one, is our tech stack, right? We need to have a modern tech stack that's cloud-based, that's API-based, you know, if that's your best security for cyber and those types of things. My opinion is, every company around the world that's the size of Sun Life, is going to get the tech stack eventually—there's too many IBMs of the world, and consultants that are going to push us that way, and you're not going to be able to resist that. So, the first stage of really becoming a more digital company, is that a tech stack, the second stage is more challenging. The second stage is how business and IT operate together. And I want IT people, who think more like business people, and really understand the business, and businesspeople who understand the technology, and the opportunities of technology; and they, quite frankly, didn't need to do that before. So, how IT and business operate together, becoming more agile, listening more to clients, having shorter, more deliverables, more releases, pushing decision-making down. So, there's a huge piece in how we operate, that's going to be important in Sun Life’s digital journey. And then the third piece is the client journeys. And how do we give the clients journeys that are intuitive for them, that are based on data, and are based on our understanding of them, and give them nudges, and show them that we have a relationship with them, a digital relationship, where we understand who they are, what they want, and then give them an experience that’s good.

So, our digital journey requires all three: a modern tech stack, an operating model that looks more like a technology company in many ways, but then a deep understanding of what our clients want, and those interactions with our, with our clients. And, you know, we're calling that, a little bit, thinking and acting like a digital company. Like, Sun Life is not a digital company, but we need to think and act like a digital company, which means we're going to build digital relationships with our clients. So, there's so much opportunity with the technology side, but I think getting it right requires all of those elements. And I know it's right in your right in your wheelhouse, and IBM's wheelhouse, and we work with IBM, very closely on some of these things. But that's the journey that we're on, and I think each element of it has an important piece of what we're trying to do.

Claude Guay
I love, you know, the focus, your last piece of your three step, you know, with the client journey, because I think in COVID, what we've seen is most of the innovation actually were driven, you know—of course, you realize you have to do the other two—but they were driven by client and citizen journeys, that evolve rapidly in COVID. I mean, I talked about the call centres being flooded, we work with the City of Markham, where we actually put in a virtual agent for COVID related question. CIBC launch a virtual agent that can actually do banking transaction as part of their app, to help their consumers. Talk about an affected you know, most affected industry, Air Canada actually transformed their loyalty program during COVID by using digital; and last but not least, we were very proud this week, we announced we've got a Digital Health Pass, which is, you know, a contemporary subject. IBM has, we announced with Switch Health, which is a big, you know, credential-testing company in the country, that we're going to be able to take that information on, and participate in the proof of vaccination. Now, of course, it's going to vary by province, as you said, Kevin, earlier. So much innovation.

Kevin Strain
Yeah, I just gotta say, I've been totally amazed by how, all over the world, people have adapted, and the resiliency of our supply chains, the resiliency of our technology, the resiliency of people to really step into this. And I know that this has been critically hard on small businesses, on restaurants and those types of things, and I think that, you know, we need to continue to find ways to support the broader business community, broader people. And I actually have been impressed, I think, you know, you can point out a lot of things that governments and companies have done wrong, but in many ways, we've done a lot of things right, too, and it's been, the resiliency of people and of organizations has been has been fantastic.

Claude Guay
Kevin, just before we go to the question from the audience. I have one last question for you.

Kevin Strain
Yep.

Claude Guay
So, Kevin, you took this role during the pandemic. So, you probably have a perception of how a leader behave, and what you should be doing, because you have a long executive career, but how did this change? Like, it's probably, the Kevin today, and now you run the business, interact with people, is probably different than the one that you would have perceived, you know, going into this position before the pandemic.

Kevin Strain
Yeah, you know, it's—I'm dying to get out and visit our people. I just, I'm sitting here going, I would love to go—I ran Asia for five years between 2012 and 2017. Relationships are so important. I just, I would love to be able to go to Hong Kong, or Philippines, or Vietnam, or Malaysia, or Indonesia, any of our countries, India, China, and visit, and have time in Singapore now, to interact with our people; and even the people in Canada and the US to be a chance to get to Boston, or Toronto, or Montreal, or wherever we are. And so, it is hard. I mean, I've got this incredible urge to get out and meet with people. We find ways, we find ways to do it over Zoom, we find ways to have discussions still, we find ways to have, to know what's going on, but I do miss that chance to interact, I never would have envisioned. So, bringing—I think we're all better at Zoom than we used to be—bringing the passion for what we do to people through Zoom is something we're getting better at. I said this earlier, I cannot imagine how we would have been able to continue to operate as well as we've done, without the technology that we've had, and the ability to turn, immediately, our infrastructure—which you helped manage—has been incredible for us. We've had very little downtime; we turned from primarily working in the office—hybrid but working in the office—to work from home 100% overnight, and that's been great. So, you know, it is different. I mean, it's not how I have—I'm a people person, I have this urge to get out and see, and interact, and I tried to do it over Zoom as well as I can. And it's not always easy, but I do think that you know what, when I need inspiration, I look at what our people are doing, and I know they're all doing the same thing. And that's inspiring to me to sort of say, yeah, we can, you know, we can keep doing it this way. The most important thing is we stay healthy, we continue to meet our clients needs, we continue to deliver on our purpose of helping clients achieve lifetime financial security and live a healthier life, and we continue to play our part in moving our way through COVID, which is, you know, that's—I'm inspired by our people, it really, it really drives me. So, whether I can see them on Zoom, or whether I see them in person, it's still inspiring.

QUESTION & ANSWER

Claude Guay
Yeah, no, I totally agree with you on the inspiration coming from our team. And by the way, Kevin, we've announced that we're moving our Toronto South Headquarters to 16 York, so we can walk in between and see each other, even outside if the government permits. But I digress. Let's go to the question. So, one great question, which is quite apropos when we're during elections—but this is not a political question—what do you believe are the crucial ingredients for Canada to emerge stronger from the pandemic?

Kevin Strain
You know, the support that the government has given businesses has been really helpful, if you think about moving us forward, and keeping the economy going, keeping the economy strong, keeping people employed, that's been really important for emerging from the pandemic. I believe that global organizations like Sun Life, are incredibly important to Canada. We bring a perspective of what's happening around the world, back to our back to our business here, and, you know, we need to continue to find ways to be focused on bringing best practices back to Canada from what we see in different parts of the world. So, that's really critically important as we emerge. The diversity, equity, inclusion, Canada is in such a position to—we have such a diverse country, and such a diverse workforce, finding ways to continue to encourage that, and bring the best of that, is going to build stronger Canadian businesses, and so, this concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion is really important. And third, I would say, Canada can lead the way on sustainability, and so many aspects of sustainability. And when I talk to our people, when I talk to our clients, when I talk to investors, sustainability is a really, really important topic. And I think coming out of COVID, again, Sun Life has three pillars of our sustainability strategy—well, actually four, it includes governance—financial security, so helping people to have the right sort of financial plans, and securities for the long term; helping them live healthier lives; sustainable investing, which really relates back to sustainability, but also climate change, and thinking about climate change; and then, and then good governance, and those types of things. And, you know, coming out of COVID, this concept of sustainability feels way more important, whether it be your health, whether it be your financial security, whether it be climate change, and what we see happening. So, Canadian companies have the ability to set a tone for the world that I think is really positive around sustainability. So, you know, it's, I worked in, I ran Asia, as I said, for five years. I can tell you that there is no place that I went, that Canadians weren't enthusiastically welcomed, because of our nature, because of the way we do things, because of the way we think about things, because of our diversity, and our support for diversity, and our recognition of what people bring in terms of values from different cultures. That's a great strength for Canada, and it's a strength that I think we need to continue to nourish as business leaders, because I can tell you, that wasn't the case for CEOs of other businesses from other countries. When you're a Canadian walking in, you're recognized and you're accepted.

Claude Guay
I say Kevin for Prime Minister, maybe I'm gonna start a trend. So, one other question—and I'm going to start on this one, Kevin—the question was, how important is cyber security in the new way of working, and has the shift to remote work led to more cybersecurity incidents? So, the answer is absolutely yes. A couple of things that worries me, as a Canadian, based on what I know at IBM, in Canada, the security incident, on average, are costing businesses $6.75 million per incidence, versus in the US, it's $5.3 million. We normally talk about the US—Canada is like 1/10th the size of the US; we make that easy equation all the time. We actually have 13% of all attacks in 2020 were in Canada. Ransomware is rampant, it's making up 57% of the attacks, and globally, it's nearly one in four. So, a lot of focus from the organization, and we've got this trend called zero trust, that we actually help our clients, and ourself, implement, because with the work from home, and the digitalization the digital acceleration of businesses, you're just expanding the electronic footprint of all of us. And Kevin, you talked about some of the things you're doing. You're extending the footprint from a digital perspective for Sun Life—I mean, I'm presuming, but I'm gonna let you speak to that—that this is high on the concern list of Sun Life, also.

Kevin Strain
Yes, cyber is one of the things that actually I worry about a lot, because as you said, the number of attacks it, we can just see it going up and up and up. And so, you know, I think the more that companies can share what they're seeing, and how they're protecting themselves, and identifying potential attackers, and working against the attackers, is really important, because we're all in this together. They're all against all of us, and we need to work together to protect ourselves, because you're absolutely right, the incidents and the number of attacks against companies. And so, you know, one of the most important things is obviously getting the basics right, and making sure that you're secure, and we do a lot of things to make sure that that happens, but it’s an area that I worry that we keep up to these companies that are creating the attacks—and they're really, they're organizations, and they're sophisticated, and they're thoughtful in their approach, and they're aggressive, and so, we need to react accordingly, and I think we do need to work together to protect ourselves against those things.

I had one other piece to sort of say, I meant to say when you asked about what can Canada do; there is a fourth thing that Canada can do, and I've been talking about this a lot recently, I think that the concept of vaccine equity, and making sure that we get vaccine out to developing countries, and until we get the vaccine to be across the world, you're going to have a couple of things that happen. One, you're going to have COVID kind of circulate through countries, and through populations, and come up with new variants, and we're always going to be fighting against these new variants until we can get the vaccine applied in a more equal basis across the globe. And the second thing you're going to find, and we do business in countries where they have very small vaccination rates, you know, if people in Canada are travelling to the US, and Europe, and going back and forth, and you're sitting in—my wife's Vietnamese—you're sitting in Vietnam, and you're watching that, you're gonna go, hold on, that's not that's not fair. Why don't we have access to the vaccine? Why aren't we getting supported in getting the vaccine across our across our population? You know, they understand they're developing from an economic scenario, and they're working hard to do that, but from a health scenario, and from a vaccine, I'm not sure that there'll be as accepting of that. So, I think, to really get ahead of the disease, to make sure we're not getting new variants, but to create that equity across the world, the more that Canada can do to support vaccine getting broadly distributed, and to get more people vaccinated, I think the better, and I think that's the topic.

Claude Guay
Really good point, Kevin. You talked about diversity and inclusion. So, one of the questions that came in is actually, you know, directly related. Women I've been disproportionately impacted during the pandemic, how your organization supporting them?

Kevin Strain
Yeah, it's a great question. And, you know, again, it's coming down to thinking about each person, and how they've gone through this as individuals, not as groups. And I think the dialogue between the manager and the employee, between peers and the employee, finding ways to create flexibility, the flexibility to choose where you're going to work, the flexibility to choose your hours, I talked earlier about sort of booking off the lunches and the afternoons. I think, making sure that we, when we do—we have a commitment. Our commitment is to have, by 2025, 50% of our VPs and above to be women, and 25% in North America to be underrepresented minorities. We are, every time we hire, every time we make a change, every time we have a promotion, we're thinking about making sure we have a diverse slate, that we're pushing our thinking on this. We’ve, it's really important that our actions lead the way on this, and then our results lead the way. And so, we're very focused on that at the most senior levels, which we think will ripple down. We're focused on it as we bring new people into the company, we're focused on it sort of broadly, providing opportunities, and then providing for those dialogues, one-on-one, between manager and employee.

Claude Guay
Yeah. And I think, you know, you sort of touched on it, I think the support and the flexibility we can give is one of the most important things. We've introduced a couple of things, like paid COVID, emergency leave, for example, which, no question asked, right, that can be used for hours or days. We've done a, you know, labour shortage and skills in this digital acceleration, Kevin is a big issue across the country. Well, why not combine that with—you know, we now have a tech re-entry program for women, that actually had we give them a six month paid internship program if they've been away from work for more than 12 months, and allows them to learn and regain the skills to continue their careers. So, all these little things, to your point, it's a series of action that actually drives that.

Kevin Strain
It's a series of actions. And we're and we're thinking about it, not just in Canada, we're thinking about it globally. We've been one of the big supporters of paid family and medical leave in the United States. In fact, we've been one of the big lobbyers it, for that sort of paid family and medical leave proposition down there. And we're also thinking about it across Sun Life, the world of Sun Life. So it's, I think you're exactly right, it's going to be a series of actions.

Claude Guay
And someone actually picked up on the skills, or my comment on skill shortage. We have a surge in technology companies setting up base in Canada and increasing their presence with hiring. On the other hand, there's a skill shortage. How are we addressing the skills gap? You know, I'm gonna start and then, you know, ask for you, Kevin. But we've actually developed programs, like, we call it SkillsBuild, which is available for the population, because there's a large part of the population that is unemployed, or would like to be in tech, but doesn't have the qualification. People think that to be in cybersecurity, you need a PhD—that's not true. Companies like yours, and I, you know, Kevin can actually, with some certifications that doesn't require, you know, going for nine years to university, can actually access cybersecurity. We actually have programs called P-TECH, where we work with community college to actually train people in AI, in cybersecurity, and we can use those, and actually allows us to augment, and of course, I make a lot of representations to the government. The answer is multifold. We also need immigration in the country to be able, if we want to be competitive, you know, to your question or your what can we do for a Canada, or what should Canada do, it’s actually rescaling our workforce, but that won't be enough, we also need immigration, so it's a multifaceted. What do you think, Kevin?

Kevin Strain
I couldn't agree more. I think immigration, and our immigration policy is super important on this front, and attracting people—we've got such a great country to live in—but also attracting students, right? You know, I'll give a shoutout to my alma mater, University of Waterloo. I mean, what a great school, if you're going to learn technology, and bringing in more international students—not just at Waterloo, all the schools, but as an example—bringing in those students, training them, and finding ways. We've got some great programs in Canada, like, if you were four years in school, I think you get two years work visa afterwards, and then more pieces. We're encouraging that, finding jobs for those students, finding ways for them to be successful in Canada, I think that's great policy to build skills, finding ways to encourage Canadians into IT as they graduate from high school, supporting the university, supporting innovation. I would also add, I think the more that we can create new small, innovative tech companies, that's also interesting, right? There's a few AI companies in Canada that are really well known around the world, there's some FinTechs and InsurTechs, that are really well known around the world. And if we can encourage those types of creative organizations that create great jobs, and create great value, that can be also very helpful. And we're trying to do that. We invest in a number of more sort of startup sort of organizations that are in the InsurTech, FinTech, we create relationships with them, like a Dialogue, which is virtual care. And I think that that creates great jobs for Canadians, it creates great service for Canadians, it integrates well with our practices. So, there's a there's a bunch of things we can do, from supporting startups, to supporting technology jobs, to supporting immigration, to supporting the universities, I think this is an area that, again, is just going to continue to grow. And Canada has a great reputation, I think we need to build on that.

Claude Guay
I'm actually going to use this to do a plug for both Sun Life and IBM, Kevin, because I started, with your predecessor, we worked on a program called ILEO, which is, you know, United Way Greater Toronto, and us, we actually develop a program in the Golden Mile to create good jobs, and the good jobs were at Sun Life. And we created a program where we selected people that had the aptitude, but then we gave them the skills and, you know, people from IBM, and people for Sun Life, created a curriculum to actually train these good people that ended up getting, many of them, jobs at Sun Life. So, yeah, kudos to Sun Life for that.

Kevin Strain
And the more that, once you're into a company like Sun Life, we like to say that Sun Life is an opportunity machine, that you can then do multiple different things, and learn, and try different things. And for me, personally, I think, the chance to work in all kinds of different parts of the company really help you to become a more rounded businessperson and business leader. So, you know, it's not just getting them in, but it's providing opportunities once people start working for us, I think is critically important.

Claude Guay
Question from the audience. Are you worried at all about productivity in a work from home environment?

Kevin Strain
It's, you know, and I'm not. And it's really interesting, because, you know, what I see is, we're as productive, if not more productive. And it's really funny, I was talking to my daughter the other day, and she works someplace where they are worried, and she goes, “Dad, I don't know what they think we're doing at home that we weren't doing in the office; I can tell you people were going for coffee breaks, and having social chat, and doing all these types of things.” So, I'm not worried just because I can't see you, I don't know what you're doing. We’re looking at results. Are we there for our clients? Are we managing our business well? Are we creating results? Are we getting our projects done? And I can tell you that we are doing as well in a hybrid work from home, as we were doing when we were in the office. I think the key difference is, it really comes down to, I think there's some collaborative things, strategy setting, some client relationship meetings, even sometimes quarter-end when we were doing the financials, the actual drafting of notes and those types of things, they work better when you're together. So, we do lose a little bit of productivity around a small number of things, but we actually gain that productivity back in things that take deep research, or thinking, or time to do, or even one-on-ones where I can do, I get—sorry, I know we're gonna run out of time—but I give an example. I used to do investor calls once a year in Los Angeles in San Francisco. I also did them once a year in Vancouver, and we would hit either Winnipeg or Calgary on the way back. Those would take three days, I'd fly there. I’d do five or six meetings one day, and I’d do two or three the next day, and I'd be back. I can do those in one day. I've saved, I'd say, two days of work, or out of the office, by being in a virtual framework. So, I don't think we've lost productivity. In fact, I think we've increased it. But what I look forward to is when we can work from the office as well; and make choices about where we're going to be most productive, and I think that's going to be even a step above where we've been. We've all learned how to work from home better, and what we're going to see in the future is we're going to select where we're going to be most productive. And I think that's going to be really a benefit not just to the individuals, but to the business.

Claude Guay
Yeah, no, I agree with you. I think, you know, this is why you and I talk about this hybrid world, because—and actually, by the way, I'll start by saying, I think we had an increase in productivity also at IBM—but it also comes at the worriedness, why we worry about mental health, because also, it's the blurring of the line between personal life, and work life. I mean, it's so easy to do 12 Zoom in a row, and your brain is fried, and, you know, you've got kids pressure in the background, and all of this. But at the same time, Kevin, to your point, you know, your planning session you were talking about, I'm sure that probably would have been better in person for a couple of days, once a year. Also, the bonds in between people, you know, going to dinner, you know, the lunch, the human interaction—I'm at the same place as you. I think the world, on a go forward basis, will be more productive than the world before.

Kevin Strain
Right. That’s what I think. Yep.

Claude Guay
Yeah, because of what we learned. I think we we've overextended our welcome to Kevin. So, thank you, Kevin, for this great discussion. I'm gonna pass it back to Kelly.

Kevin Strain
Merci beaucoup.

Kelly Jackson
Thanks so much, Kevin and Claude, for that fascinating walk through so many different topics, from the importance of equity, and diversity, and inclusion, to cybersecurity, to immigration, to skills gaps, to mental health. I think you've covered a lot of ground today. So, we really appreciate your time. I'd like now to introduce David Garg, who is the Managing Director and Head of Financial Services, Corporate Investment Banking at Scotia Capital Incorporated, to deliver some additional thank you remarks.

Note of Appreciation by David Garg, Managing Director & Head of Financial Services, Corporate Investment Banking, Scotia Capital Incorporated
Thank you, Kelly. Good afternoon, everyone. It's my pleasure to bring greetings on behalf of ScotiaBank, and to thank you both, Kevin and Claude, for your very thoughtful insights today. The last 18 months have challenged us all in many different ways, whether it be emotionally, physically, financially or otherwise. It is in these times that the importance of strong leadership is most recognizable. Kevin and Claude, over the last hour, you've demonstrated that leadership can be empathetic, decisive, and forward-thinking, all at the same time. A particular note of congratulations to both of you, for assuming your current leadership positions in the midst of this global pandemic—not an easy task, indeed. My sincere thanks to both of you, the Empire Club, and to everyone in the audience for joining us today. Please, everybody, stay safe, and have a great day. Thank you. Back to you, Kelly.

Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thanks, David, Claud and Kevin, and everybody who joined us today or is tuning in at a later time. Our next event takes place on September 24th. It's a panel discussion on “How Canada's Changing Privacy Landscape Will Affect Businesses, Consumers, and You.” More details, and complimentary registration are available at empireclubofcanada.com. This meeting is now adjourned. Thank you stay safe, and have a great day.

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Canadian Leaders Prioritizing Talent, Health and Technology to Emerge Stronger


16 September, 2021 Canadian Leaders Prioritizing Talent, Health and Technology to Emerge Stronger