Impactful leadership is one that is able not only to make long-lasting contributions to the organization, but ultimately to its people. A strategic leader must focus on the legacy that they want to leave for their teams, looking at each of them individually and collectively at the same time. It is about seeking to understand the strengths of every individual and the potential gaps that make their teams up. One of the instances of such impactful leadership is Rachel Lemos, Director, Corporate Procurement at Canadian Western Bank (CWB). CWB is a diversified financial services firm that provides expert advice and specialized financial services to business owners.
Rachel is a strategic and highly results-oriented procurement leader with over 20 years’ experience in large and international companies specializing in strategic sourcing, public procurement, and supply chain operations management. With a diverse background in both private and public sectors, she has demonstrated ability to deliver a world-class procurement, driving results that directly affect the top and bottom-lines of organizations.
“CWB Financial Group is a diversified financial services organization providing specialized services in banking, trust and wealth management for small- and medium- ‘‘sized companies.”
Recognizing Opportunity, Learning and Contributing
Rachel was brought to CWB with a mission that seemed absolutely enticing to her: to build a corporate procurement function from the ground up. That meant to lay down the foundations, to bring to life a department that did not exist before, which was, at the same time, intriguing and exciting to her. It was intriguing because CWB is a mature organization with over thirty-five years of existence, which made Rachel ask herself how CWB grew for all these years in a decentralized model and yet doing so well. And it was exciting since she has spent her entire career in supply chain and procurement fixing things up, improving processes, and that was a unique opportunity to ‘customize’.
Nevertheless, it was not an easy decision for her to make. Accepting that exciting opportunity was going to represent a major shift in her career journey, moving from the public sector (which is where she worked for the previous ten years), as well as learning a new industry. She then did what she loves to do, put all the pros and cons together, which made her realize she had a golden opportunity at hand: to learn something new and to deliver something tailor-made, which would all result in enriching her career and further contributing to the growth of a flourishing organization. Therefore, she made her move and joined the amazing CWB Financial Group – also known as ‘Team Teal’.
Being new to the financial industry was great and Rachel humbled herself to learn new things every day. As soon as she joined CWB, she started a deep dive-in into the financial industry standards. The next step was to get a better understanding of the internal processes. She started an analytical exercise into processes, systems, and tools, so that she could come up with recommendations to fill in the gaps and to support the new corporate procurement function at CWB to establish the framework for purchasing, strategic sourcing, and risk management, while establishing and developing the new procurement team.
Delivering Seamless Banking Experience for Business Owners
CWB offers all the same products and services that Canada’s big banks do, except the company does it with a focus on business owners. CWB looks to make a seamless banking experience for business owners who obviously have personal banking and wealth management needs as well as financial needs for their business operations.
CWB is a smaller bank than the big 5 or 6, but it is growing quickly. The organization has made several acquisitions in the past year, have numerous partner companies that focus on specialized business sectors like equipment financing, and it just opened its first physical banking center in Ontario last year.
Creating a Culture of Loyalty and Cohesion
Rachel carries her own personal leadership style with her anywhere she goes. It is the kind that looks after people and goes above and beyond the ‘open door policy’. Rachel is a proactive leader who invests in relationships and communicates in a way that says, “let me walk with you, we’re in this together”. She leads intentionally and believes in creating a legacy worth following.
Providing Exceptional Client Experience with an Excellent Team
The difference at CWB is how the Bank provides an exceptional client experience. It is known that banks have a traditional reputation for being transactional, but CWB looks at its clients as partners, and they often view CWB as part of their team too. CWB’s people know business, and it is proactive about looking for opportunities where entrepreneurs can grow their businesses. It all starts with its remarkable culture and values. CWB was recently th recognized as the 28 Best Workplace in Canada by Great Places to Work.
‘‘Recognizing Importance of Procurement Executives
Rachel acknowledges that the procurement activity within organizations has significantly changed in the past 20 years, evolving from a transactional purchasing activity that supported the operational functions, to a strategically positioned role. As a result, executive positions for procurement had grown exponentially, giving procurement a voice at the table, and significantly helping to shape and influence organizations’ strategic direction and growth.
Talented procurement executives, with a tailored, well though and properly executed procurement strategy has the power to positively affect the competitiveness of any given organization, unlocking significant value. The problem remains that for mid-sized organizations that grow fast, this can remain an invisible factor, resulting in the continuation of managing their processes in a tactical fashion. That is when the executive role becomes even more relevant, with the vital role of demonstrating the ROI of investments in a robust and efficient function, strictly aligned with organizational goals.
Bringing Value of Procurement Function to the Table
According to Rachel, working closely together and playing as a trusted advisor is the very first step for a corporate procurement function to succeed, demonstrating its value to internal stakeholders. There is no better way to get trust in place than understanding stakeholders’ dynamics and priorities intrinsically. For example, working closely with marketing or IT teams will lead to a better understanding of their needs and therefore an enhanced ability to capture the benefits that will add value to their business. Those varies over time, in each moment it may be adding flexibility, or avoiding supplier dependency, then it may shift to reducing costs, or it can be various factors altogether.
The second portion of it is maintaining these relationships. Procurement must act as a strategic partner to business stakeholders beyond completion of a competitive process, or contract executions. It is essential to continuously support their needs that are constantly evolving, whether be in jointly managing contracts, monitoring vendor performance to ensure that negotiated KPIs and SLAs are met, amongst others important enduring activities.
Finally, making the value procurement function bring to the table known! Rachel says, “Do not miss the golden opportunity of selling off the results. Make your contributions visible throughout the organization. Define value, measure, and report it thoroughly.”
These are vital components that cannot be neglected, which also supports the maintenance of a strategic seat at the table.
‘‘Whether you need expert advice and specialized financial services for your business banking, personal banking or wealth management – CWB has everything you need.”
Keeping Systematic and Forward-Looking Approach
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when trying to determine whether reducing costs or risks can best support businesses today and tomorrow. It is our responsibility to look at the nature of the organization’s maturity level and where it sits at its roadmap. There are lots of considerations that need to be made to figure out this. Is the organization fighting for survival? Or Is it mature and financially stable? Is the organization in a highly regulated environment? Or is it in a space that it has a lot more of leeway? The answer to these vital questions will lead one’s efforts and dictate priorities. However, Rachel advises to never leave any of these functions unattended or neglected. They may not be equally important, but they are both crucial.
Furthermore, Rachel considers it is important to make sure this is a continuous exercise since the answer to these questions today may very likely change tomorrow.
Inherently, this should be a systematic approach to determine where should one put more efforts and resources to achieve organizations’ strategic goals in each moment, but at the same time, keeping a forward-looking approach on one’s industry potential challenges and one’s organizations’ goals of tomorrow.
Looking Proactively for Solutions
Rachel considers it is important to constantly be researching current technological trends, but also shaping the ones of tomorrow. It is not sufficient nowadays to be aligned with newer technologies; there is a need to influence the development of innovative solutions. The only way to make it happens is by closely working with strategic suppliers, sharing one’s organizations’ bottlenecks and pain points, and proactively looking for solutions, jointly. One area that makes a difference of how competitive organizations are is how they work with their strategic suppliers, and how early one brings them into the solutioning of their challenges.
As Rachel says: “Business that gets their heads down trying to keep the lights on and get ‘too busy’ to look for innovations are left behind. Competitive organizations lead the space, while others follow”. As such, procurement can help its internal stakeholders and influence transformation journeys, continuously acting as a conduit for change.
Being Courageous to Deal with Issues
One thing that has served Rachel throughout her career was never accepting any roadblocks as a dead-end, but rather creating alternative ways to proceed, and never accepting a negative without a valid reason to pause or stop anything that she is convinced to be a benefit for the organization.
Rachel states that every businesswoman should have resilience, determination, and boldness, and they should be prepared and courageous to start difficult conversations whenever needed. She says that dealing with any issues must be seen rather as a collaborative effort, ensuring one is paving the road to a better workplace, a better world.
Being Fearless and Determined
To any women aspiring to be in leadership positions Rachel’s advice is to be authentic, humble, and determined. Especially to women who are willing to enter financial industry, she asserts “The financial industry is traditionally a male-dominated workforce, especially at senior leadership levels. If you are considering a field with similar dynamics remove your fear and come with an open mind. Look at the company’s brand and values, research their commitment and progress toward diversity and inclusion. These elements will definitely help you to succeed in pretty much any industry you are considering to be a part of.”
“CWB gets to know you – forming relationships, asking the right questions, understanding your industry – so that it can provide you with the right financial solutions.”