Business

Laurentian Bank names Rania Llewellyn CEO, first woman to hold top job

Laurentian Bank of Canada has named Rania Llewellyn to be its next president and CEO.

Llewellyn ascends to top job at Laurentian after 26-year career at Scotiabank

A sign sits outside the head offices of Laurentian Bank in Montreal, March 19, 2013. The Bank reported its financial results at their annual general meeting on Tuesday. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Laurentian Bank has named Rania Llewellyn to be its next CEO, a move that the bank says makes her the first woman to hold the top job at a major Canadian lender.

Born in Kuwait, Rania immigrated to Canada in 1992. She comes to the top job at Montreal-based lender Laurentian after a 26-year career at Scotiabank, where she started as a teller before moving up to a series of managerial and executive roles, most recently the executive vice-president of global business payments. 

"Rania Llewellyn is the right leader to usher in a new era at Laurentian Bank," board member Michelle Savoy said in a release. "She has a proven track record as an energetic, strategic thinker focused on customer experience and tangible results. Following a rigorous search process, we are confident she is the change agent this bank needs to address the headwinds it faces and to establish a foundation for future growth and success," said Savoy, who headed up the search process for a new CEO.

In a release, Llewellyn said she was "thrilled and honoured" to join the bank and added that she is "committed to always putting our customers first in everything we do. I look forward to working with my new colleagues across Canada and in the U.S. to develop a strategy for long-term growth and success that meets the needs and expectations of all our stakeholders."

Rania Llewellyn is CEO of Laurentian Bank of Canada. (Laurentian Bank)

Llewellyn will start in the role on October 30.

The bank says Llewellyn is the first woman to be CEO at a major chartered Canadian bank. 

HSBC Canada, and online bank Tangerine are both headed up by women — Linda Seymour and Gillian Riley, respectively — but those banks are not independently operated, and are rather divisions of other, larger banks.

None of the so-called Big Five Canadian Banks — Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Toronto-Dominion Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada — have ever had a woman as CEO.

Laurentian bank has 2,900 employees and more than $28 billion in assets under management. Earlier this year Laurentian cut its dividend for the first time in 30 years.

Camilla Sutton, the CEO of Women in Capital Markets, said Llewellyn's hiring is "incredible news" for Canada's financial sector.

"I'm sure it's a sad loss for Scotiabank but really fabulous to be able to see a female CEO of a Canadian bank."

Sutton had a long career at Scotiabank herself before leaving to head up the advocacy group, and she says she worked with Llewellyn at various times over her career.

"She is a born leader," she said. "It takes about one minute in a room with her to recognize that."

Sutton says she looks forward to the day when a woman breaking the glass ceiling in the world of finance is no longer newsworthy.

"One day I'll be out of a job and I'll cheer that because it means we've achieved diversity in finance in Canada — and that will be a very exciting day," she said.

'Talent can come in different packages'

Vandana Juneja is the executive director of Catalyst Canada, which works with companies to identify and remove barriers in workplaces for women.

She says she hears too often from companies that the reason women rarely make it to the top job is because they aren't at the level just below it, but she says that argument doesn't hold water in this day and age.

"We actually need to be intentional as leaders to be able to see that talent can come in different packages," she said in an interview. "There isn't one standard normative way for talent to look."

Juneja says the financial sector is better than many when it comes to promoting and developing female talent, which is why she's hopeful that one of the Big Five may take the next step soon and name a woman to be their next CEO.

"We definitely see progress there, and we see more women coming up through the pipeline, so I would say that anything's possible," she said.

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