Coast Capital chief parlays Japanese proficiency into global career: CEO SeriesApr 18, 2013
The spring series of CKNW 980’s “The Chief Executives” continued with Tracy Redies, President and CEO of credit union Coast Capital Savings, discussing her journey from selling shoes to leading of one of the country’s largest credit unions with CKNW host Bill Good in front of a live audience at the Segal Graduate School.
The event was part of an ongoing partnership between the Beedie School of Business and prominent Vancouver radio station CKNW News Talk 980 to bring leadership and business insights from some of Canada’s top executives to SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus.
Redies reminisced in the opening stages of the interview about the beginning of her career. She explained how she graduated at the peak of a recession, and with few jobs available, started working in a shoe store, a position she obtained due to her being able to speak Japanese.
Her fluency in the language then led her to work in the hospitality industry, filling several roles from maid to concierge, before securing a position in a hotel management training program. According to Redies, working in a number of front-line positions provided her with a solid grounding that enabled her to thrive in her future leadership roles.
“It is important to take every experience as a learning opportunity,” she said. “Working in my first jobs I learned to work hard and have respect for the people doing this front-line work. I quickly learned that it is ok for the general manager not to be around for a little while, but if a dishwasher does not show up for work, then the organization is in big trouble.”
When Redies decided that a career in hotel management was not the right path for her she opted to return to university, obtaining an MBA with a focus on international trade and investments in the Asia Pacific region. This led to her first job in the financial industry, working for HSBC Canada.
Good then asked about her current role, and the thinking behind the organization’s strategy. “Our business is in financial services, but there are a lot of providers out there, so I have to think how to separate Coast Capital Savings from the rest,” she said. “We challenge the orthodoxies of banking and make it less intimidating and more enjoyable for our customers – I occasionally call us the ‘unbank’.”
Redies regaled the audience with a tale of a young couple who had visited a branch for help with their finances. After giving them financial advice to improve their situation, the couple returned ten months later with an unusual request – to be married in the branch. The advice the couple had previously received at the branch had enabled them to pay off all their debts, repair their credit rating, and save $20,000. The couple wanted to honor the impact the company had made on their lives, even asking two of the financial advisors to be witnesses at the wedding.
She then elaborated on establishing a strategy for her company, stressing the importance of engaging their employees in order to change the company for the better. “A lot of companies’ vision statements are mumbo jumbo – by establishing a cause that engages the minds and hearts of our employees we found they were able to connect the dots,” she said.
The conversation moved on to the community campaigns Coast Capital Savings is involved in. Redies expressed the importance to the company of giving back to the community, citing her belief that healthy communities make for healthy businesses. She mentioned the company’s focus on youth programs, singling out the collaborative work they are involved in with SFU to help young entrepreneurs as an example of this approach.
Good enquired as to Redies’ outlook on the state of the Canadian economy, and that of British Columbia in particular, in comparison to the rest of the world. She replied that the Canadian banks and credit industry had done well in managing the country’s finances through the crisis, but that the nation now faced the challenge of shedding household debt, with the rising cost of housing a challenge that must now be tackled.
“When taking on large debts it is vital that you can manage that debt long term,” she said. “We are in a period of low interest rates, but at some point those will increase and that will put pressure on a lot of people. At some point the baby boomers will retire and the demand for loans and savings will decrease as they move out of the workforce. It is a dream for people to own their own home but it has become increasingly unaffordable for people to own in the city, and that worries me.”
Over the course of the interview, Redies fielded a number of questions from the audience, touching on subjects such as the sacrifices she had made to further her career, the difference in working for a major bank and a credit union, the ethics of bonus culture in banks following the financial crisis, and the challenges Coast Capital Savings faces in the next few years with the federal government phasing out tax advantages for small companies.
Good closed the interview with his customary Vanity Fair question – which four people would they choose to have dinner with? When Redies’ response included Barack Obama, Good probed as to whether she would bet on the US remaining the key player in the world’s finances.
“Absolutely, I am a big believer in the US,” she replied. “No country has produced more wealth for its citizens and the rest of the world. There is no question that they have some debt issues to deal with, but you only have to look at the events of this week to see how resilient Americans are.”
To see all the CEO interviews from the 2013 CKNW Chief Executives Series, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/events/2013-cknw-ceo-series/