RBC Global Asset Management boss on the value of education

Sep 09, 2014

John Moltobano

The global business world is in a constant state of flux, and in order to stay relevant successful business people must constantly educate themselves. This was just one of the many insightful business tips delivered by John Montalbano, CEO of RBC Global Asset Management, in the first of the fall 2014 series of CKNW 980’s “The Chief Executives”.

The event is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University and prominent Vancouver radio station CKNW News Talk 980 to bring leadership and business advice from some of Canada’s top business leaders to the Segal Graduate School.

At a special breakfast event in front of a live audience, new Chief Executives host Simi Sara quizzed Montalbano on the secrets to his meteoric rise up the financial industry ranks. After joining Phillips, Hager & North (PH&N) Investment Management Ltd in 1987 as an equity analyst, Montalbano assumed successive leadership roles within the firm, ultimately being appointed President in 2005.

After RBC acquired PH&N in 2008, he assumed the role of CEO at the newly created RBC Global Asset Management (RBC GAM), where he oversees the investment of some $350 billion for individuals and institutions worldwide.

In an engaging interview, Montalbano expressed his admiration for the BC education system, insisting that stories often circulated in the media about entrepreneurs dropping out of school to launch a million-dollar idea paint the wrong picture.

“I think a university education is critically important – it’s in vogue to drop out of school and start a business, but those success stories are few and far between, and your best bet is a quality education,” he said. “Even now, I know it is important to continue my education. The world is always changing and you have to change with it. I look at a lot of academic research looking at how we can improve our business.”

Expressing the importance of retaining one’s morals in business, Montalbano noted that the increased emphasis placed on teaching ethics in business schools today pleases him. Indeed, a key part of the interview process at RBC GAM is looking for someone who will not cut corners, but instead remain true to their values.

“We recognize that good marks are important, but also look for potential,” he said. “When asking questions, we don’t look for the right answer, but rather, the path to the right answer. We spend a lot of time on this – every interviewee will go through 10 or 11 interviews before we hire them.”

Returning to the subject of education, Montalbano noted that the most intelligent person in the room is not necessarily the most effective one, and that what RBC GAM look for is someone who is not afraid to make mistakes.

“Mistakes are almost like a badge of honour – when a mistake happens we bring everyone together to walk through it and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “This creates an informed culture. Sometimes mistakes are celebrated, because they make you better.”

Asked to offer career advice to the Beedie students in the audience, Montalbano expressed the need to be able to buy into the corporate mission of an organization. If you have a hard time believing in the corporate mission, he said, you will struggle to succeed.

“When you graduate, you just want a job, to get your foot in the door – but from there ask ‘where can I go from here?’” he said. “Be happy that you are in, but be unhappy with where you are at. Behave in a manner that is consistent with the corporate mission. On top of that, don’t compromise your integrity. Make sure you don’t succeed at someone else’s expense.”

A big proponent of diversity, Montalbano ended the interview with a personal anecdote, where his father – an Italian immigrant – had told him that some day in his career, someone would play the race card on him. It finally happened on the day that he was made partner in PH&N, when the manager at the bank the company conducted financial transactions through pointed out that his name differed from the other partners when he applied for a loan.

“When I went back to the office and relayed the story, the other partners were so angry they moved the banking relationship immediately,” he said, eliciting applause from the audience.

The next CEO to be interviewed as part of the CKNW Chief Executives Series will be Wayne Drury, CEO of Coast Tsimshian Resources.

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