By GRAHAM HICKS
Dave Mowat has been ATB Financial’s CEO and President since 2007. Retiring in June, Mowat is unarguably Alberta’s best-known and most visible CEO.
Mowat is that rarest of beasts: A well-liked, amiable, even humble corporate and community leader, yet likely the most dynamic CEO that ATB, a venerable government-owned financial institution, has ever seen.
ATB Financial’s marketing department took advantage of Mowat’s media-friendly personality. His smiling mug advertised ATB’s services in newspapers, billboards, TV and all over social media.
Who can forget Dave smiling at the camera, pointing his finger and saying “Who banks on Alberta’s future? We Do!”
Most of ATB Financial’s excellent long-term performance (from $20.3 billion in assets in 2007 to $49.6 billion in 2018, from 600,000 to 750,000 customers, currently 5,000 employees) is credited to Mowat’s vision, an unshakable belief that the bottom line is driven by great customer service from a staff fully and utterly committed to clearly articulated company values.
Yeah. Sure. Whatever. Right.
Every company president I have ever interviewed says the same things! Meanwhile, a few floors down, staff would be laid off before Christmas so management could qualify for year-end performance bonuses!
But, having reported on Mowat and ATB Financial for the past 10 years and talked to hundreds of ATB employees, I am convinced.
It takes a great CEO who never sleeps to creates a REAL customer-centric culture.
Under Mowat’s watch, ATB Financial went loudly and proudly over-board on its staff and customer focus.
Walk into any ATB branch and you’ll see the ATB 94-word “story” (not mission statement) plastered on its walls, within a shape resembling Alberta.
“We can transform banking,” it reads in part. “We carry the outrageous belief that banking can change people’s lives for the better … By doing things other banks wouldn’t do … steadfastly genuine in our pursuit of Albertans’ greater good … By using banking to create happiness … because good things happen when happiness becomes your purpose.”
Mowat walked the walk and talked the talk.
In 2012, ATB underwent a massive banking systems overhaul, a $150-million project that went on for months and months and months.
The work was not going well. Customers were frustrated.
Mowat posted signs at all the branches. Don’t take it out on our staff, call me. The displayed phone number was for a special “hotline” on his desk. Mowat personally answered every one of thousands of calls. To this day, he answers every email he receives from customers and staff. It’s not his executive assistant or secretary, or an automated e-mail reply. It’s Mowat himself at the keyboard.
He’s equally famous for ‘management by walking around’, randomly visiting employees within Edmonton’s ATB Tower, or dropping in to chat with staff and customers at ATB’s Alberta-wide 172 branches and 135 agencies — just to see how everybody’s doing.
The persona may be folksy, but Mowat has been relentless in his drive to instill customer-oriented attitudes in ATB from top to bottom.
He leads “culture day” for new employees. After three months, if new staff are not a fit, they are given a farewell package – “only about 12 out of thousand,” says former ATB Financial Chief People Officer Lorne Rubis, who now holds the title of ATB “Chief Evangelist”.
ATB puts huge stock in an internal recognition system. All staff are encouraged – especially executives – to recognize employee initiatives. “A long-time customer was in his 80s, in failing health and couldn’t take care of his calves,” relates Rubis. “Two ATB staffers from his branch went to his farm, rounded up, tagged and castrated the calves for him. It’s about emphasizing our corporate culture, being a bank that creates happiness for people.”
Does all this rah-rah stuff make a difference to the bottom line?
Absolutely, says Rubis. “Major survey companies measure company engagement, trust, internal morale. Over the long term, companies with consistently high scores are, without exception, America’s most profitable companies.”
From those surveys, Mowat has one of the highest CEO approval rates (from employees) in North America. In 2017, a Globe & Mail survey ranked ATB Financial as the second-best place to work in Canada.
Of course there have been hiccups along the way, especially as ATB weathered the global financial crisis of 2008/09 and the provincial recession of 2015/16. Despite the obsession with “people first”, there have been a few rounds of minor staff lay-offs.
But did Dave Mowat transform ATB Financial into a modern, people/customer-centric bank with a growing customer base and huge approval ratings?
Did he inspire staff, and all of us in Alberta, with his leadership both within ATB and in the community?
Did he make his company the best-known, most market-savvy financial institution in Alberta?
Yes he did!
ATB Financial’s 10 staff “commandments”
ATB #1 Deliver WOW to customers and each other every chance you get
ATB #2 Continuously seek ways to make banking work FOR people
ATB #3 Think YES first
ATB #4 Be personally and fiercely accountable
ATB #5 Find a way to get things done
ATB #6 Be confident and humble
ATB #7 Trust and expect the same from others
ATB #8 Do the right thing
ATB #9 Think big and make it happen
ATB #10 Have fun every day