When HSBC came looking for part-time tellers at Sandra Stuart’s high school, she didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity. Though a talented math student, Stuart said she had no aspirations for a career in finance, she was simply looking for what most look for in a first job: good work, good fun, and some money in the pocket.
She found that, and more. Now, 30 years later, Sandra Stuart is the President and CEO of HSBC Canada.
She doesn’t remember when it turned from a part-time job into a career, but says she never shied away when presented with a new challenge.
“I always had an opportunity ahead of me. There was a point where I’d been at university and I wasn’t quite finished and HSBC offered me a full-time job. And I took that. Next thing I know I had another job. Each job I’ve had has been very different and they’ve kept me excited about it, and they’ve kept me excited about it for years, and now I feel like I’ve had careers within careers.”
Stuart says she was helped with her leadership skills by two types of people in her professional life: mentors and sponsors.
“Mentors are there to counsel you, someone you can go and have a coffee with, and get help with a difficult situation or business advice. The most powerful thing I’ve had in my career, and they’re not always obvious to you, are sponsors. They are people who see the work you do and notice the talent, and they want to help that talent through the organization. A sponsor is someone who recognizes talent and ability and wants to get that talent on their team, and they will help your career progress through the organization. The interesting thing about a sponsor is you don’t always see it, it’s someone who sees you.”
In the competitive world of finance, talent is hard to find and retain. For Stuart, part of being a good leader is being able to provide the best environment and opportunities for the talent she brings to her team, and making sure she keeps, trains, and maintains the best talent for her company.
“Companies understand that to be successful you have to attract, retain, and develop the best talent that you can get your hands on,” she said. “But I don’t do it alone. I surround myself with a very capable leadership team in order to attract the best talent. But you can’t just talk about finding and keeping talent, you got to go out and do it.”
She has plenty of leadership advice for possible mentors and sponsors.
“Think big. Do not limit yourself. Take chances. Failure is a good thing, you can learn from failure. You’ll have frustrations along the way, don’t let them derail you, and when changes come in your path, figure out what that change means and make it meaningful for yourself. Don’t give up.”
Stuart has been CEO since 2015, and now that she’s reached the corner office she says she’s always ready for the next challenge, to be “dropped in the deep end.”