During her five years as chief executive officer of Canada Post, Moya Greene was courted half a dozen times to join corporate boards or run another business.
All but one of the offers were from foreign companies. The last overture was so enticing that she opted in May to walk from an unfinished makeover at Canada Post to be the first woman to lead Britain's Royal Mail, a postal service twice the size of Canada's. It is no surprise to Ms. Greene, 56, that only one of her suitors was Canadian.
"Is there something wrong with executive recruiting in Canada?" says Ms. Greene, a blunt-talking executive with 30 years of experience on Bay Street and in the federal government. Even though "women are so successful at different levels" in Canadian business, she says "they are not seen and their shoulder is not tapped to be the leader of the organization."
Britain's gain is the type of talent drain that corporate Canada can't afford to shrug off. Ms. Greene is one of a number of admired female executives who are finding more lucrative and challenging career choices with foreign head offices or branch plants. Their success outside the Canadian business mainstream casts an unflattering light on the dearth of opportunities for female leaders on their home turf.
"Losing Moya is a great loss and it is unfortunate that someone here didn't see that," says Richard Kostoff, former deputy chairman of TD Securities, who was Ms. Greene's boss during her time as an executive at the bank in the mid 1990s.
"It is very disappointing that a woman of her caliber wasn't able to stay in our country and do the kind of job that in my opinion needs to be done at Canada Post, Now she's doing it for someone else," he says.
Ms. Greene isn't the only female star to strike career gold with foreign employers. In recent years, aspiring local females have been actively recruited or promoted to run prominent global companies or to steer their Canadian branch plants.
"I wanted to be a CEO. As it turned out the best opportunity for me was with a foreign company,' said Heather Conway, who was appointed last year as chief executive officer of the Canadian branch of New York-based Edelman Communications. Ms. Conway has a long career in government relations and was formerly a senior marketing executive with Alliance Atlantis Communications and Toronto-Dominion Bank.
U.S. companies in particular are so proactive about hiring and promoting women that some Canadian business chiefs complain that it is difficult to compete for senior female executives with global experience. In the United States, 32 of the top 500 companies, ranked by revenue, are headed by women. Many of these companies appointed female leaders as change agents to revive listing or troubled businesses and a number of them have placed a priority on promoting more women to senior executive jobs.
"You cannot have companies that are populated by a disproportionate amount of majority men at the top and reach a goal of a diverse and inclusive work force," said retired Xerox Corp. chair Anne Mulcahy. During her tenure at Xerox, the percentage of female officers at the company ballooned to 39 per cent. Last year she was replaced as CEO by Ursula Burns, the first Afro-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company and the first female CEO to succeed a woman in the elite U.S. business ranking.
Some foreign employers are nabbing Canadian women to put a fresh face on staid organizations and other are drawn to their experience in a multi-cultural and heavily regulated economy.
After 18 years as a rising executive at Alcan Aluminum, U.S.-born Cynthia Carroll left Montreal in 2007 to be the first woman and non-South African to serve as CEO of British-based Anglo American PLC, one of the world's largest and most conservative mining companies.
No woman ever held the reins at Alcan until last year when the company's new owner, Rio Tinto Group, handed the CEO's job to Jacynthe Côté, the former head of the company's bauxite and primary metal divisions.
Luxury hotel operator Four Seasons appointed its first female chief executive officer Kathleen Taylor this summer. Her promotion comes after control of the hotel chain passed from its Canadian founder to companies controlled by Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Microsoft's Bill Gates.
Some of Canada's largest branch plants are now headed by women and these jobs have been stepping stones to bigger global careers.
"I think it is a great career path," said Annette Verschuren, a Cape Breton native who was appointed president of Home Depot Canada in 1996. She was so successful expanding the chain's market share in Canada that she was handed the additional mandate of leading the company's foray into China's hyper competitive retail market. Before she joined Home Depot, Ms. Verschuren ran the Canadian chain of U.S. retailer Michaels Arts and Crafts.
"For me it was the two American companies that really made a difference."
With a report from Janet McFarland