This post is part of the Leadership Interview Program, The Leadership Group's blog column in which President Trevor Stevenson interviews leaders about life and work.
Ben Hart is currently Vice President, Portfolio Manager at CIBC Wood Gundy. He previously worked with Scotia McLeod and was recruited to HSBC on the brokerage side where he managed some of their offices in addition to serving clients.
Trevor Stevenson of The Leadership Group had the opportunity to speak with Ben Hart about what he found useful and effective in his leadership role, and his best advice for today’s business leaders and entrepreneurs.
TREVOR STEVENSON OF THE LEADERSHIP GROUP: Good afternoon, Ben. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Let’s start with what I know to be one of the cornerstones of your leadership style. Have you always been a proponent of finance?
BEN HART: I bought my first stock when I was 13, so I’ve always had an interest in the markets. The one consistent thing about markets and economies is that they’re an evolving beast producing a massive amount of information that needs to be read, studied and consumed. I’ve always been fascinated by it and like to find the answers.
TREVOR: What influenced you to buy a stock at the age of 13?
BEN: My dad had an interest in the markets. He had studied mathematics at University of Waterloo, so he had a natural affinity for numbers. He followed the markets and that’s what piqued my interest. However, I only became serious about it when I went to Australia for 6 months. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life and I read a lot of different books. The one that brought me to where I am now was Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. It got me thinking about investing and the things I like to do. That was the catalyst for me to focus on the investment business.
TREVOR: The markets are a high pressure biz. What do you do to keep grounded?
BEN: I’m naturally a runner and have been running since age 15. It’s my default when I need to blow off some steam. I cycle as well, but when I need a break, I typically go for a run. With any kind of sport, when you start young it’s more natural to you and you don’t think about it as much.
TREVOR: So what does VP in your world mean?
BEN: You need to manage a certain amount of money and create a certain amount of revenue for the firm in order to get considered for it. In addition, you need a clean compliance record.
TREVOR: Now that you have reached executive status, how do you go about communicating about your vision with clarity?
BEN: About 3 years ago, I decided to become a discretionary portfolio manager. It was a shift from discussing every investment decision with my clients to a situation where I do everything. I spent some time at that point building the message of where we were going, but didn’t dedicate much time communicating that to my team. Fast forward to where we are today, my team has changed and now I’m putting more effort into communicating about our longer term direction. During our weekly meetings, I always wrap up with: this is what I’m thinking, this is where we’re going, this is why we’re going there. That has helped the team understand the message and our direction.
TREVOR: Being a numbers guy, could you ballpark the effectiveness or efficiency of clearly discussing your message and direction versus not doing so?
BEN: The enthusiasm and excitement level is up. My team is hardworking and effective, and their performance has increased even more now. There are also softer things I’m picking up on. For example, more communication is quickly coming back to me. That happens naturally, right? You give it out and it comes back to you. Generally, I’ve felt a lot of positive change.
TREVOR: How are you feeling now with this kind of reawakening and refocus?
BEN: I feel great about where the business is going and the team I have. A lot of our success has to do with communications and ensuring that the systems are in place.
TREVOR: What advice would you give entrepreneurs and business leaders so they don’t lose their way?
BEN: Continuously ask questions of the people around you to make sure you’re not missing anything. This is especially important if something doesn’t feel right within the business or within the working environment. Asking questions can help you ensure that everybody’s moving in the same direction.
Also, take advantage of all of the information that is out there. You can’t just sit down, rest, and repeat what you did yesterday. You have to keep learning. It’s constant and as an entrepreneur and business owner, you need to keep learning every day. That’s the one thing that I’ve found has helped me the most—stay focussed on learning.
TREVOR: You have given me a lot to think about. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.
BEN: My pleasure, Trevor. Best of luck with everything.