Putting people first

Isabelle Courville, chair of the Laurentian Bank of Canada's board of directors, believes that interpersonal skills are essential to good leadership.

Q: What led to your choice of career?

Actually, I discovered a taste for leadership when working at summer camps. I first taught sailing to children and began leading various camp sections — and then teams of counsellors. Once I completed my engineering studies, I was immediately drawn to management.

Have you had any mentors during your career?

I've had several mentors who have played significant roles almost every step of the way. I'm thinking, for example, of Carol Stephenson, who was my boss at Bell and who retired last fall as the dean of the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario. She wasn't an official mentor per se, but she showed me the importance of bringing everyone together to work on a common project.

When you think about leadership, what's the first word that comes to mind?

People. To be a good leader, you have to like people. Of course leadership requires strategic thinking, but interpersonal skills are also extremely important. You've got to take an interest in everyone, young and old alike, to be able to motivate and understand them. I've mentored young women and explained to them that teamwork is what counts — not turning in work you've done by yourself.

You have three daughters. What's the most important thing you want them to learn?

I tell them to follow their dreams and not just choose the easiest path. Over the years, they've learned to be organized and to work hard. I think I inspire them to excel. In fact, one of my daughters is in a trilingual (French, English, Spanish) business administration program at HEC Montréal because she wants to be a CPA.

After earning a bachelor's degree in engineering physics in 1985, Isabelle Courville worked at Bell Canada before obtaining a bachelor of civil law in 1991. She climbed the ladder at Bell, becoming president and CEO of Bell Nordiq Group, then president of Bell's Enterprise Group. She went on to work for Hydro-Québec, where she served as president of TransÉnergie and then as president of Distribution. She has been chair of Laurentian Bank's board of directors since March 2013.