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Celebrating senior leaders in finance, operations, technology and more who help companies win big

Welcome to our third annual Best Executive Awards, celebrating all those unsung lieutenants who toil in the CEO’s shadow but deserve a shoutout for keeping their organizations moving forward—whether it’s in operations, sales and marketing, finance, HR, technology or sustainability. Yet again, we received hundreds of nominations, from blue-chip companies to startups

Christine Gillies | Chief marketing and product officer, Blackline Safety

FULL CIRCLE: Gillies dashed down 87 flights of stairs to survive the World Trade Center attack. Now she’s putting her skills—and quick thinking—to work as chief product and marketing officer for remote sensor maker Blackline Safety. Read the full story here.

Holly Johnson | VP of robotics and space operations, MDA

SPACE PRODIGY: A new generation of the Canadarm is being built for applications that include the space station that will orbit the moon and prepare for the first voyage to Mars. And MDA VP of robotics and space operations Holly Johnson is the engineer in charge. Read the full story here.

Jon McKenzie | Executive vice-president & COO, Cenovus Energy

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Shaun Robinson/The Globe and Mail

Sometimes the best time for an executive to take a risk is when they can least afford to do it. When Jon McKenzie was named the new CEO of Cenovus Energy (a role he starts on April 26), he owed the move in part to a decision he made in early 2020, when he was still the COO and the company had barely survived the early stages of the pandemic. Now, he thought, was the time to acquire another oil company, Husky Energy. “Jon came to me with this idea of combining Cenovus and Husky,” recalls Alex Pourbaix, who was CEO at the time. “I remember saying, ‘Do you think it’s the right time to do it?’ And Jon said, ‘This might be the only time we ever get the chance.’” The merger, which closed in 2021, turned Cenovus from an oil producer to an integrated producer/refiner.

While the move was undoubtedly nervy, it was part of McKenzie’s three-prong strategy for the company: “deleveraging the balance sheet, getting our costs down and trying to get market access for our products.” McKenzie’s clarity about his goals, along with a willingness to take risks to meet them—which Pourbaix describes as “a mix of discipline and courage”—is something he learned in jobs at Suncor, Irving Oil and Husky itself. McKenzie says his bosses were “some real icons of the business community” who were all “able to motivate people to produce more than they think they can.”

As he takes on the top job at Cenovus, McKenzie thinks the integrated company is well positioned for the next few years. But he also knows that the oil business is cyclical. “Never get too high when things are going well or believe that the success of the company is entirely related to the things that you’re doing,” says McKenzie. “And when commodity prices are down, you just have to be persistent and stick with it.” As 2020 proved, even bad times can turn out well if you have a good plan. /Jaime Weinman

Angela Sim | Chief technology resiliency, experience and operations officer, BMO Financial Group

Sim started her career on the proverbial bottom rung of Canada’s oldest bank when she joined as a junior C++ software developer 22 years ago. Now, she leads a team of more than 1,500 across three continents, and is effectively responsible for the technological infrastructure that keeps BMO running. During COVID-19, she oversaw the bank’s transition to remote work, including an organization-wide rollout of Microsoft Teams—which would normally take two years—in just a few months. What’s more, she’s assembled a 100% female executive leadership team and is the bank’s technology and operations co-lead for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Atul Chandra | CFO, HomeEquity Bank

When Chandra became HomeEquity Bank’s CFO in 2016, its net income was less than $12 million. He spearheaded a culture of fiscal and regulatory responsibility that’s propelled the bank to an income exceeding $77 million in 2022, paving the way for a suite of new products and customer service improvements in the process. Among his achievements is leading HEB’s first-in-Canada sale of reverse mortgages to investors in 2019, which has been a major boon for its profitability. In his spare time, Chandra raises funds for AIM for Seva, a not-for-profit that works to increase education access for children in India.

Patrick Lo | National power and utilities lead, Microsoft

With sustainability as one of his core values, Lo joined Microsoft this past October to help power and utility companies make the transition to clean energy. “To reach net zero, it has to be big and bold, and it takes innovation,” says Lo, who previously led a pilot project at Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator that let residential customers install rooftop solar panels to support the grid. “The part that I can play,” he says, “is to show everyone in the power and utility sector what’s possible in terms of decarbonizing.”

Justin Adler | COO, NorthOne

Adler’s resumé might be unexpected for the co-founder of a fintech like NorthOne, which provides small business banking services. His previous roles ranged from music producer to marketing exec for the Frank and Oak apparel brand. He’s a firm believer in the value of diverse experience and tries to stand for the idea “that no one is above any job at the company.” His teams usually meet or exceed their goals, but he continues to keep an eye out for individuals who can lead them higher still. “You need to identify your teammates who are outstanding and invest in them, break down walls for them.”

Bunmi Adeoye | Senior VP, consumer and lifestyle, Proof Strategies

Within a year of joining communications firm Proof Strategies in 2019, Adeoye was promoted to her current role. “Being an executive during a pandemic requires you to lead with a great deal of empathy, patience, trust and self-compassion—which is exactly the way I think we should lead all the time,” she says. Adeoye’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of PR professionals shows up in her collaborative approach to leadership at Proof, but she doesn’t stop there. She also co-founded the Code Black Communicator Network, an organization dedicated to the support of Black communications professionals.

Mike McNeil | VP, Venturepark Labs

If McNeil weren’t VP of Venturepark—an accelerator for food, beverage, health and wellness entrepreneurs—he’d likely be dining on pizza and burgers all the time, he jokes. The non-profit, which was founded in 2015 by Dragons’ Den’s Arlene Dickinson, has worked with 200 brands, and its alumni’s products are stocked in 30,000 stores across North America. Currently, Venturepark is supporting more than 40 entrepreneurs. “It’s busy,” says McNeil of the accelerator. “There’s a waitlist to get into it.”

Anastasia Regen | Principal director, national cyber strategy and organization, Accenture

Not long ago, cybersecurity was the IT department’s problem when disaster struck. Not anymore, thanks largely to business grad Regen, whose rethinking of “end-to-end” security bakes cybersecurity into businesses in advance (and for a fraction of the price). “We’re the bridge between business objectives and cyber strategies,” says Regen, whose savvy expertise guides the largest C-suites in the country (far) away from those aforementioned disasters. Ironically, if Regen’s done her job well, the rest of us won’t ever know she was there at all.

John Bayliss | Executive VP & chief transformation officer, Walmart Canada

One of Bayliss’s favourite quotes from Walmart founder Sam Walton begins, “You can’t just keep doing what works one time; everything around you is changing.” Bayliss is known at the retail giant for projects that do unexpected things, like helping to design a grocery distribution centre that takes up half the usual space, ordering a fleet of electrified trucks from Tesla, or partnering with DLT Labs to create a blockchain invoicing program that has reduced invoice disputes by 97%. “The pandemic forced us to pivot, adapt and get creative,” Bayliss says, and that’s the one thing he doesn’t want to change.

Sri Vemuri | Senior VP, national sales manager, Capital Group Canada

“The most important attributes are a positive attitude and constant curiosity,” says Vemuri of the best career advice he ever got. Twenty-five years ago, the newbie writer was recruited to sales, where he found a knack for selling via authenticity and humility. “I learned everything from people around me,” he says, clarifying that his recent successes—a 234% sales increase in the notoriously difficult years between 2019 and 2021—should be shared with his team. Passionate about safe spaces where staff can be their honest selves, Vemuri launched Capital Group’s DE&I roundtable anti-racism events featuring famous faces like U.S. Olympian Allyson Felix.

Maryam Saeed | Head of risk, Visa Canada

It’s Saeed’s job to think of every potential worst-case scenario, specifically around how the pandemic-wrought increase in digital transactions doesn’t lead to an increase in fraud. “I’m constantly thinking about new and emerging threats, and how we can stay ahead of the game to protect our network and the financial system,” she says. One of the key ways she’s approached this is by employing tokenization to secure e-commerce transactions, and getting partners on board. The result? A significant year-over-year increase in usage and a double-digit reduction in fraud rates.

Fion Lee-Madan | COO, Fairly Al Inc.

With more than 20 years in the enterprise software game, Lee-Madan has been working for what she calls “fair and responsible AI” long before anyone ever thought of ChatGPT. Before her leadership position at Toronto-based Fairly AI, she spent many years working internationally, and it made her “truly appreciate the diversity of humans from different backgrounds, cultures and circumstances,” which in turn taught her that you need diverse perspectives to understand how technology intersects with human life. “Our success rate in recruiting a truly diverse set of talented individuals is the No. 1 goal that I am most proud of achieving at Fairly,” says Lee-Madan, who also serves on Canada’s CIO Strategy Council.

Paul Teshima | Chief client experience officer, Wealthsimple

Over the past year, many young people have grappled with the first market reset of their investing career. For a new-school investment management service like Wealthsimple—which has more than three million clients in Canada and oversees more than $18 billion in assets—it’s been crucial to stay laser-focused on customer satisfaction. Teshima swiftly responded to helter-skelter market conditions, designing new programs to strengthen ties between clients and advisers, introducing operations updates to improve response speed and quality, and scaling the customer experience team. As a result, Wealthsimple actually saw its number of clients and net deposits grow.

Stacy Kauk | Head of sustainability, Shopify

As head of Shopify’s Sustainability Fund, Kauk’s job is to steer the organization and its massive network into the fight against climate change. The fund backs tech that accelerates the removal of excess carbon from the atmosphere; to that end, Kauk was the driving force behind Frontier, an advanced market commitment (in partnership with other organizations like Stripe, Alphabet and Meta) to commit $925 million toward carbon removal. Kauk also led a major renewables initiative last year; the company now counteracts emissions from all its employees’ Canadian home offices by adding an equivalent amount of wind energy to the grid.

Michelle Yeap | Senior manager, business analytics, BMO

Yeap is a champion at multitasking. In addition to overseeing analysis that helps BMO manage its recent acquisition of Bank of the West, the data and analytics whiz also creates tangible tools for business leaders to bring wellness into work, and she helped secure funding for the bank’s largest ever CRM transformation program. Plus, she owns and runs Flowtime Yoga, based in Toronto. “When you have a passion for something,” says Yeap, “you find ways to make time for it.”

Allison Wolfe | CFO & global head of portfolio management, Oxford Properties Group

During her 13 years at Oxford, Wolfe has set herself apart with an unflinching commitment to finding the best possible workflows and tools—no matter how easy or convenient a suboptimal solution might be. With her team of more than 200 employees, she implemented the automation of key processes, introduced a cloud-based investment pipeline management tool (a major upgrade from Excel) and made significant enhancements to the company’s management reporting, to name a few changes. An agile, passionate operator, Wolfe deeply understands the adage “work smarter, not harder.”

Sarah Nathanson | COO & general counsel, Thunderbird Entertainment

Vancouver-based Thunderbird has big plans—its stated goal is to be-come the next major global studio. And Nathanson is determined to help the company get there. Besides creating growth-oriented roles and infrastructure, and working to optimize its revenue models, she played a key role in Thunderbird’s 2018 listing on the TSX Venture Exchange. She’s implemented a thorough ESG action plan, helps oversee the funding of BIPOC internship programs, and prioritizes purpose-driven content supporting diversity and inclusion. In short, she’s an effective, principled executive with a near omnipresent reach.

Mark Sakamoto | Executive VP, Think Research

Even if you’ve never heard of Think Research, you might know Sakamoto from his bestselling 2014 family memoir, Forgiveness. While a company that develops knowledge-based digital solutions for health care professionals may seem a world away from publishing, Sakamoto arguably still relies on the same skills—building trust and listening well—that allowed him to draw out his grandparents’ Second World War experiences for the book. “We work very closely with health ministries, health ministers and often the premier’s office,” says Sakamoto, who typically leads those conversations and negotiations. “This is not a transactional kind of business; it’s a longstanding, trust-laden business model.”

David Berkowits | Chief technical officer, QDoc Inc.

Before Berkowits co-founded QDoc, he built the first real-time teleradiology platform for the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Rural residents used to endure long wait times to interpret radiology results—even in emergencies—but Berkowits’ innovation revolutionized their care. With QDoc, he continues to build innovative tech supporting equal access to health care. “Our platform is completely free for Canadians,” he says. “We do our best to match patients with physicians in their local communities, which helps maintain continuous care if they need to be seen in person.” In a challenging era for public health, we need innovators like Berkowits bolstering the system.

Imen Zitouni | Senior VP and chief digital officer, Intact Lab

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Jocelyn Michel/ Consulat/The Globe and Mail

Here’s an unexpected fact about Imen Zitouni, considering her job: Growing up, she was a bit of a Luddite. “In high school, I remember being asked to type an assignment, and I was against it because I thought it would remove our personality,” she says with a laugh.

Clearly she came around. In fact, Zitouni goes so far as to say she’s now “in love with innovation”—particularly when it comes to the insurance industry. “Projects are constantly evolving with technology like 5G, telematics, behavioural science and AI.” That’s why, in 2015, she pitched the idea of creating a digital innovation lab at Canada’s largest property and casualty insurer. Under Zitouni’s leadership, the Intact Lab has grown from 15 people to more than 300 professionals who help generate $885 million in revenue annually. Much of that growth comes through digital platforms, where more than half of Intact’s customers interact through the mobile application.

One of the first projects Zitouni spearheaded was figuring out how to minimize the amount of time it took an online customer to get an insurance quote. “In our world, quotes can turn into sales, and we knew we had to shrink how long people were waiting,” she says. In 2015, the average wait was nine to 10 minutes. Zitouni and her team got it down to three minutes. “You need to have a clear vision of how to execute an idea. Otherwise, it’s just going to be a good idea on a computer screen,” Zitouni says. “We really are a do tank rather than a think tank.”

It’s not just her technological smarts that make her indispensible, but her people skills, too. “Imen leads through connection,” says Intact CEO Charles Brindamour. “She tries to learn an interesting fact about each of her team members.”

Zitouni stumbled into insurance by accident. A digital marketer by trade, she once had a roommate who worked in the industry and would pump her for advice on how to shift the business in that direction. Eventually, it turned into a job.

At Intact, one idea that stands out for Zitouni is its new mobile crash assist feature, which detects accidents and contacts emergency services with one tap. “Innovation is about making better experiences for people,” she says, “and really, it only matters when it ends up in the hands of the customers.” /Clare O’Hara

Jeremy Auger | Chief strategy officer, D2L

Education is about changing yourself. But it seems the same applies to a career in education technology, given Auger’s 20-year journey as part of D2L’s founding team. “It’s taught me the tremendous value of reinventing myself and embracing change as a catalyst for growth,” he says. As D2L has gone from startup to multinational, Auger has taken on different roles as needed, including COO and CTO, while maintaining his ability to attract and deploy talent, and his belief in what a team can do when it embraces change and long-term goals. “Together, we can push back boundaries and transform the world,” he says.

TJ Flood | President, Canadian Tire Retail

When the word “unprecedented” suddenly starts to appear, well, an unprecedented number of times in headlines, internal memos and everything in between, companies rely on leaders who can maintain a level head. For CTR, that was Flood, who kept his cool amid supply chain chaos, inflation and shifting consumer demands. He laid the groundwork for a $1.2-billion investment in the company’s store network, oversaw the launch of its newest generation of large-format retail outposts and bolstered connections with its dealer network. The upshot: CTR managed to drive short-term growth without losing sight of its broader ambitions.

Elizabeth Wood | Executive VP, CMI Financial Group

Canadian Mortgages Inc. has grown its employee base from less than 10 to more than 120, and Wood doesn’t try to act like it isn’t a high-pressure situation: “Too many people feel forced to hide their struggles in workplaces that celebrate powering through or toughing it out.” Wood’s CEO, Bryan Jaskolka, says she’s an effective leader “because she always considers the people—and the humanity—behind it all.” This human factor is one reason Wood talks freely about her lifelong struggles with severe anxiety and agoraphobia: “I’m very transparent about my own mental health journey because I want people to know that it’s okay not to be okay.”

Gord Nelson | CFO, Cineplex

With the movie theatre business in dire need of a steady hand, Cineplex was fortunate to have Nelson, who’s been with the company since 1988 and in his current role for nearly 20 years. When the pandemic wiped out ticket sales, Nelson focused on keeping the company afloat without compromising its long-term financial health, and he had to do that while also working on its litigation against Cineworld Group, which walked away from a $2.8-billion deal to buy Cineplex in 2020 (and has since sought bankruptcy protection). In 2022, Cineplex saw a huge increase in revenue and even squeaked into the black. Now, with the company in better shape, Nelson is working on a five-year ESG plan.

Imran Gulam | CFO, FYiHealth Group

“I have always kept to my core values of doing the right thing.” That’s Gulam’s simple explanation for his success. FYiHealth is a doctor-led group of optometry clinics, and as the business expands, executives need an ethical code to match the doctors they work with. Over the past 18 months, Gulam has overseen what he describes as “extensive growth,” including the merger of FYiHealth with another network of clinics and the acquisition of the optical retailer BonLook. He’s satisfied he and his colleagues have held to those core ethics through it all: “I am very fortunate that my team demonstrates those same values,” he says.

Frederick Morency | VP sustainability, strategic initiatives and innovation, Schneider Electric

Morency has been working at the Canadian branch of the energy-management company for more than 25 years, but with this role, he believe he’s found his calling. “Sustainability is core to my purpose,” he says. His team of “sustainability ambassadors” is in charge of making sure Schneider’s many Canadian facilities are meeting their sustainable-energy goals. But Morency adds that he sees his job in larger terms, as a way to “help pave a path to Canada’s net zero future. It takes a community to effect change.” With that in mind, he has spearheaded a number of collaborations between Schneider and other organizations, such as collaborating with think tanks and labs to try and develop new ways of reducing emissions.

Alanna Boyd | Senior VP & chief sustainability officer, Sun Life

In 2021, Boyd became Sun Life Financial’s first ever CSO. Leading a team of 55 (and counting) dedicated to sustainability initiatives, Boyd has put one of Canada’s largest public companies squarely on the path to net zero by 2050. Under her leadership, the company achieved carbon-neutral certification, defined a target for $20 billion in sustainable assets by 2025, and embedded diversity, equity and inclusion across its operations. Boyd walks the walk when it comes to sustainability—and is bringing her entire organization along for the ride.

Andie Andreou | CFO, SkipTheDishes

SkipTheDishes, a Winnipeg-based food delivery service, took its final steps out of startup city in 2016 when it was acquired by the British giant Just Eat Takeaway. But on the financial side, it continued to operate more or less like a startup until CPA Andreou took the reins in 2019—just before the pandemic hit. In the midst of exponential growth in never-before-seen conditions, Andreou overhauled the company’s financial software and processes, grew her original team of 16 to 63, and somehow found time to mentor colleagues and advocate for women in leadership positions.

Caroline Grimont | VP marketing, Harvest ETFs

Financial services companies aren’t known for having the most forward-thinking digital strategies. But when Grimont became Harvest’s first dedicated marketing hire, she got to work changing that. She led the evolution of its website from outdated digital billboard to content-rich multimedia experience, massively increasing traffic and garnering more than a million views for its YouTube channel. Her tenacity and knack for leveraging media and influencer partnerships is pushing Harvest toward thought leadership in the investment space.

Angel Yau-Vandenburg | Chief data and technology officer, Équité Association

Statistician and data scientist Yau-Vandenburg, one of a handful of female CTOs in the country, spent decades in profit-driven companies before joining the non-profit fraud detection firm Équité. “I was drawn by its purpose,” she says. “I want to use data and analytics to help uncover fraud and organized criminal activities.” In a first for Canada’s property and casualty insurance world, she’s working on a national, consortium-based, AI-driven analytics platform designed to detect insurance fraud. Yau-Vandenburg partly credits her tenacity to her powerlifting hobby; she’s competed on a national level and says the sport taught her to embrace persistence and resilience.

Chris Biederman | CTO, Li-Cycle Holdings

Only the company co-founders have been at Li-Cycle longer than its CTO. As the battery recycling company’s R&D lead, Biederman led the development of industry-first tech that recycles large batteries without discharging or dismantling, making the process much safer and more efficient. Now, he’s leading the development of a $485-million commercial hub that will process old batteries and manufacturing scrap, creating the first ever North American source of recycled lithium. Biederman’s tenacious leadership has changed the landscape of Canada’s clean-energy industry.

Adam Haines | VP product and customer experience, Blue J Legal

Blue J Legal, an AI-driven legal tech firm, started life as a U of T entrepreneurial hub project. While still relatively small, its user-experience scores rival those of giants like Amazon and Netflix. Much of that is due to the influence of Haines, whose steadfast focus on empathy has been transformative for the company’s users—and deeply impactful for his direct reports. Haines believes in genuinely empathizing with clients to understand their needs inside out, and he knows exactly how to translate those insights into a meaningfully user-oriented product roadmap.

Shannon Higginson | SVP, general counsel & chief compliance officer, Lululemon

These past few years haven’t exactly been smooth for businesses in any category—but for brands working toward major international expansion, it’s been a particularly arduous time. It’s a good thing for Lululemon that Higginson has been around to help steer the ship. As the company works to grow its footprint in China, Higginson has created a detailed economic and political risk response framework to bolster its resiliency. She’s also shifted the company’s strategy from “react” to “prepare,” making her a star exec beloved by the board and senior leadership alike.

Aly Khan Musani | CFO, Symend

Symend is a software-as-a-service play that uses behavioural science to help companies communicate with customers who are late paying their bills—and it started with Khan Musani literally scribbling notes on a napkin while sitting around a table with its two co-founders. He leveraged his finance expertise from the oil and gas industry and applied it to the tech startup. Under his leadership, Symend has raised more than $200 million (including one of Canada’s top financing rounds last year), grown by a factor of two to four every year since 2018, and now has some of Canada’s top telecom providers on its roster of clients.

Loretta Marcoccia | Executive VP & COO, global banking and markets, Scotiabank

Marcoccia’s job is making Scotiabank the leading wholesale bank in the Americas, a challenge that requires operating across business functions on many of the projects she leads. But that’s a big part of what she enjoys about her role. “I love the diversity of it—it’s not one-dimensional,” she says. Marcoccia is known as an inclusive leader who’s excellent at managing transformational change, skills she developed in the early part of her career. “I started in HR, so I understand how important it is for people to feel that they belong to something and understand what value they can add.” Marcoccia recently managed the restructuring of Scotia’s business in Asia, among other projects. “The fact that I’m called upon to figure out how we move forward,” she says, “I love that.”

Sarah Facini | VP, customer experience & marketing, Smile

Smile initially focused on designing highly customized employee loyalty programs (i.e. long sales cycles and lots of client handholding). Now, the company has been able to scale with an effective out-of-the-box solution. Facini was instrumental in that shift. She took the company’s uncertain mission and disorganized team structure, and evolved it into an efficient, collaborative machine. “Our user base was growing rapidly in ways the system couldn’t support,” she says, “but I like a challenge.”

Vanessa Kanu | CFO, Telus International

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Alexa Mazzarello/The Globe and Mail

Vanessa Kanu became Telus International’s CFO in September 2020—smack in middle of not just a pandemic, but also an all-hands-on-deck IPO effort. The journey to going public requires heavy lifting from every corner of an organization, but it’s an absolute power lift for the finance department. And yet Kanu—never having met her colleagues in person—rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion. “I credit Vanessa with much of our IPO success,” says Telus International CEO Jeffrey Puritt. “I suspect that but for her expertise, personality and work ethic, we might not have achieved nearly as good a final result.” With an initial market cap of $8.5 billion, the digital solutions provider closed the largest tech IPO in TSX history in 2021.

Kanu credits her impact in part to a somewhat counterintuitive approach. “I never start with the numbers—I end with them,” she says. “I’ve always been the sort of finance person who wants to understand the core of the business. I always want to go way beyond the financial statements to build a solid mental model.” The upshot? In a crucial period, Kanu put herself on rock-solid footing when it came to communicating with potential investors. “Sometimes a question from an investor sounds like it’s about the numbers, but really it’s about the business’s key drivers,” she says. Good thing she picked up the latter in record time.

Under Kanu’s leadership, the company also has closed three acquisitions: Massachusetts-based Lionbridge AI (concurrently with the IPO), Bangalore-based data labelling platform Playment and, most recently, the $1.5-billion acquisition of Willowtree, a Virginia-based customer experience innovator. “Of course, the number of companies we evaluate is significantly more than that,” she says. “You can imagine how much sleep I got in my first three months of work. But I have a high threshold for this type of pressure.”

Ultimately, it’s Kanu’s passion and leadership style that makes her such a powerhouse executive. She’s detail-oriented, but not a micromanager; committed and tenacious, but empathetic. “There’s understanding detail, and then there’s just being in the weeds,” she says. “I read every line of every report I’m sent, but I like to give people autonomy to solve challenges. That’s how I like to be treated, and extending that to my team has served me well.” /Liza Agrba

Marilyn Horrick | SVP, Ontario market, Desjardins

A 123-year-old mainstay in Quebec, Desjardins Group has a secret weapon helping the financial co-op expand outside the province: Horrick. She brings staff together from different departments across the organization to help it grow. “It’s a lot to navigate to bring individual representatives from each of these divisions together and create a forum for them to collaborate,” she says. Despite this challenge, she’s been successful at building consensus. The result? “We’re trending toward representing over a third of our revenue outside of Quebec,” she says.

Mélanie Lavoie | SVP, talent & culture, Vosker

Lavoie joined the remote monitoring tech company just a few days before the pandemic began. Aside from helping current employees shift to remote work, she also needed to hire a ton of new people, integrate them into the company and make sure its culture was solid. Within eight months, Vosker nearly doubled its staff to roughly 380 employees. Lavoie, who’s also managed the people side of two major reorganizations at Vosker, credits her success to an ambitious yet people-centred approach. “I’m very business driven, but also very human,” she says.

Navaid Mansuri | CFO, Dialogue

In early 2021, Dialogue set a three-month deadline to go public; 77 days later, the virtual health and wellness care provider was trading on the TSX. “Doing an IPO in 77 days can be a very daunting task,” says Mansuri, who also oversees Dialogue’s corporate development, public and government relations, and its legal and compliance function. “But if you remain positive, if you stay focused on the goal, it helps you navigate those challenging times.” Now, Dialogue is transitioning from a growth-at-all-costs mentality to focus on ROI and prioritizing resources. “We’re well on our way to being profitable by the end of the year,” he says.

Norm Sabapathy | Executive VP, people, communications and technology, Cadillac Fairview

Managing communications, HR, PR and tech operations for a $40-billion global company across continents is a monumental task. But Sabapathy, who’s been with Cadillac Fairview for more than 10 years, isn’t fazed, noting the parallels between these seemingly disparate areas of the business. Data is a key component, whether he’s measuring employees’ sense of belonging, implementing a solid cybersecurity plan or investing in the latest smart building technology. “I love the breadth of the interaction and pulling all that together in a cohesive culture,” he says.

Dorothy Arturi | Chief people officer, Q4 Inc.

Title aside, Arturi sees herself as a business leader first and an HR expert second. During her years at Q4—which provides capital markets communications—she’s become known for making sure she’s an equal partner with other executives and that the company supports “positive team dynamics” by making decisions that take into account what’s best for their fast-growing workforce. Her successful strategies include a “continuous listening program” to ensure a steady flow of employee feedback.

Ryan Ender | President & CFO, Grey Jay Sales & Distribution

While his father focused on importing and exporting, Ender’s passion in the family’s food distribution business is championing local Ontario brands that might otherwise never land in big chains like Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys. He’s the reason, for example, that the iconic leaf-shaped Jackman’s maple syrup bottle has graduated from kitschy souvenir shops to grocery stores proper—and with top real estate. “We build wooden racks and creative displays to catch consumers’ eyes and boost sales,” says Ender. That’s an understatement: Last year, Grey Jay grew by 928%.

Domenic Finelli | President, Canada Pooch Ltd.

Before Finelli sold (adorable) dog coats and gear, he ran a trendy tapas restaurant, and before that Toronto’s first food truck, and before that he was…a corporate finance brain at the Canada Pension Plan. “I used to envy people with clarity about what they wanted to be, because I never had that,” he says. Until he quit his day job for entrepreneurship—in a variety of industries. Finelli met the founder of Canada Pooch through their mutual dog walker, and he has since turned it into a business with $35 million in annual revenue. In fact, all of his varied endeavours have started out as a friend’s idea; his magic is turning those nuggets into viable businesses—earning him the fond nickname “Uncle Dom.”

Silvia Montefiore | Canadian managing partner, business enablement and operations, KPMG Canada

Few organizations are ever prepared for a pandemic, but three decades of KPMG leadership made Montefiore the massive firm’s best pick to head their pandemic response. She quickly doubled down on mental health, which she’d been championing for years. “It was the moment to live by the values we talk about,” she says. “My job became to make sure 10,000 employees in 45 offices got all the support we could offer.” Among the many perks on offer were paid Fridays off, free online tutors for employees’ children and an innovative “home alone network” to combat loneliness.

Rebecca Best | Senior product manager, audiobooks and gated content, Spotify

Spotify users will soon notice audiobooks on their streaming service—the passion project of Best, who took a brave step from traditional book publishing into the world of tech. “It felt like a perfect blend of my long-time love of books and storytelling with my newer love for building software,” says Best, who was tasked with researching and strategizing a seamless user-friendly model to lure audiobook lovers and new listeners alike. If last fall’s U.S. launch of 300,000 titles is any indication, Spotify audiobooks will be a sure Canadian success.

Philip Rees | CTO, Tidal

Whether keen or reluctant, a company or organization migrating onto the cloud might call up software platform Tidal. There, Rees, a genetic scientist turned tech innovator, guides clients onto the cloud (and into the future) as securely, efficiently and seamlessly as possible. “The world is changing and evolving, and it’s very rewarding to help people change and adapt,” he says.

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