Networking with directors: How BMO is fostering career advancement

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For the past 10 years, BMO Financial and its Chicago subsidiary BMO Harris Bank have run a program that introduced directors to the top executives at the bank. Last year, BMO launched a similar program, dubbed Leaders Meet Directors, to let some of its rising stars interact with select directors.

At a September luncheon, BMO introduced four board members to 12 up-and-coming leaders at the bank and encouraged them to network and, in turn, seed relationships for years to come.

BMO had a few reasons it wanted to broaden the program beyond the top brass. Meeting with those bankers a step or two down from the executive ranks gives directors a better sense of what’s happening at the ground level of the bank. It also gives them potential candidates to think about in future succession planning discussions. The bank says those in the program are typically five years away from senior executive status.

For those emerging leaders, it fosters informal connections and shows them that the bank takes an interest in their careers.

“These directors are highly accomplished business leaders and community leaders. For them to take an interest in you and to have them talk with you as an individual, that goes a long way,” said Daniela O’Leary-Gill, the chief operating officer at BMO U.S. “These can be turning points in people’s careers and it creates incredible engagement.”

It also provided exposure to the board of directors for rising female leadership across a mix of business lines, including technology and small-business banking. Women made up 65% of the leaders who participated in the first cohort of Leaders Meet Directors, the bank said.

BMO has also taken an interest in using its employee resource programming to get more women of color on track for leadership roles, said Larissa Chaikowsky, the chief operating officer of BMO Wealth Management U.S.

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One such program is Linkages, which was created to help hiring managers get acquainted with diverse candidates within the organization who they not have previously known. The program allows executives to meet a pool of select employees in smaller group settings.

Chaikowsky said the benefit is twofold: Employees get exposure to executives higher up in the organization and they also start to form new networks at their own level.

“The more people you know in the organization, the more leaders you’ve worked with and had exposure to at your level and above, gives you more opportunity because you are known in the organization,” she said.

Headquarters: Chicago

Assets: $130 billion
ROE: 7.75%
ROA: 1.01%

Female representation among corporate officers: 25%
Female representation on operating committee: 20%

The team: Leslie Anderson, Erica Benjamin, Carolyn Booth, Larissa Chaikowsky, Justine Fedak, Dawn Feenstra, Sharon Haward-Laird, Summer Hinton, Ernie Johannson, Kara Kaiser, Katie Kelley, Shaheena Khan, Niamh Kristufek, Erica Kuhlmann, Kim Liaustaud, Cecily Mistarz, Erin Norton, Aine O'Flynn, Sue Oleari, Daniela O'Leary-Gill, Donna Parish, Pam Piarowski, Denise Press, Lois Robinson, Joanna Rotenberg, Dalila Rouri, Deepa Soni, Cheryle Wittert, Susan Wolford, Ann Marie Wright, Salima Yala

(Financial stats are for BMO Harris unit)

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Corporate governance Workforce management Diversity and equality BMO Harris Bank Women in Banking