The buck stops here
Leading from the heart
Leadership is one of Monique Leroux’s favorite topics. She loves reading about it, learning about it and talking about it. But, as leader of Desjardins Group, the largest cooperative financial group in North America, what she most enjoys is inspiring leadership in others.
It’s only human
“Leadership is essentially human nature,” says Leroux. “It’s about emotion, not just hard facts and management skills.” For Leroux, leadership begins with understanding how to rally a group of people — often with diverse objectives, agendas and backgrounds — around a common vision or goal. Next, you must gain those people’s trust.
Finally, to truly lead, she says you must inspire each group member to “develop within themselves the spirit of achieving that vision or goal.” And when they do, says Leroux, “you get a level of personal commitment and involvement — positive emotion and energy — that can amplify the success of the organization.
“As a leader,” she notes, “you have to create conditions that will help your people realize their dreams.”
Leroux believes that all organizations must work to develop their future leaders. She mentions that Desjardins recently completed a corporate reorganization. As part of the process, management spent considerable time discussing ways to increase people’s level of emotional involvement.
Leroux acknowledges that not every person in an organization will have the emotional aptitude to develop as a leader. However, she feels a personal responsibility to foster an environment of trust and respect at Desjardins where people can “confidently express who they are and what they want to do, and develop the positive energy and motivation needed to become leaders.”
Walking the talk
One of the very few women CEOs in Canada (not to mention one of the first woman EY partners in Canada and the first female president of the Quebec Order of Chartered Accountants), Leroux doesn’t feel that being a woman has a significant impact on her role as a leader. “It perhaps adds a level of complexity,” she says, “but it also gives me more visibility and opportunity.”
And visibility can be a two-edged sword for a CEO, especially when it comes to upholding the organization’s values, another of Leroux’s critical leadership components. Many organizations, including Desjardins, notes Leroux, display their values and mission statements on plaques in their lobbies or on their websites and business cards.
“That’s all very nice,” she remarks, “but in reality, when the rubber meets the road, are we really doing what we say?” Leroux believes a great leader must live the values of the organization at all times. If there’s ever a disconnect, she warns, if a leader doesn’t consistently walk the talk, “your people will not only see it, but feel it.”
Listen and learn
Regarding her own success as a leader, Leroux thinks it boils down to two interrelated qualities: she says she’s a good learner, which is the product of being a good listener. “One of the most important things in life is to know what you don’t know,” says Leroux. “Another is knowing who to ask to help you cross that bridge.”
Leroux says she is careful to surround herself with people she trusts — inside and outside of Desjardins — and really listens to what they have to say, good or bad. “To be a good leader, you need to listen and be humble about yourself,” she adds.
Leroux’s listening skills may have played a significant role in her becoming Desjardins’ top leader in 2008. Unlike most financial institutions, Desjardins is a cooperative. Its CEO is elected (not appointed) by an assembly of 256 people representing more than 5,000 elected officers and more than six million clients and members.
Considered a dark horse, Leroux personally talked with every panel member. “I wanted them to clearly understand my vision of Desjardins,” she recalls, “but just as importantly, I wanted to listen and understand what was on their minds.”
When asked if she was surprised that she won, Leroux pauses, gives a little smile and says, “No, but I’m always the one who sees a glass as half full.”
Monique Leroux attended the Music Conservatory of Quebec with dreams of becoming a musician. Along the way she switched her major to accounting.
But when she joined the firm in Montreal in 1978, she had more music than accounting credits. Leroux recalls the warm welcome she received at EY Canada despite her non-traditional background.
While at EY, Leroux helped establish the insurance and financial services practice in Montreal. Today, the practice generates nearly 25% of the office’s revenues. In 1988, Leroux was named partner.
She left EY in 1995 to join the Royal Bank of Canada. From 2000 to 2001, she was at Quebecor, Inc., and in 2001, she joined Desjardins Group, one of the clients she had helped bring to the firm.
In addition to serving as chair, CEO and president at Desjardins, Leroux is a member of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Founders’ Council of the Quebec Global 100 network. She also chairs the Conseil québécois de la coopération et de la mutualité and is a member of the board of directors of Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada.
She is also a member of the board of directors of the International Co-operative Alliance, and of the board of directors and the executive committee of the European Association of Co-operative Banks; vice-president of the presidential committee and a member of the executive committee of the International Confederation of Popular Banks; and a member of the board of Crédit Mutuel’s subsidiary CIC.
Leroux also sits on the Advisory Committee on the Public Service (appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada) and on the Catalyst Canada Advisory Board and is a member of the Canadian Group of the Trilateral Commission. She is a founding partner of the Quebec International Summit of Cooperatives (2012–14).
Desjardins Group is the fifth largest cooperative financial group in the world, with assets of C$210 billion.
To meet the diverse needs of its members and clients, Desjardins offers a full range of products and services through its distribution network, online platforms and subsidiaries across Canada. The group has one of the highest capital ratios and credit ratings in the industry, and ranks as the fourth safest and strongest bank in North America, according to Global Finance magazine and Bloomberg News, respectively.
On 15 January 2014, Desjardins Group announced, with State Farm (USA) and Crédit Mutuel, the acquisition of State Farm Canada.