Leading through change

Sarah Davis, chief administrative officer of Loblaw Cos. Ltd., on transitioning teams and the importance of mentorship.

You were the CFO when Loblaw acquired Shoppers Drug Mart earlier this year. How did you lead your team through this transition?

We have focused a lot on communication. We have an overarching culture, with distinct supermarket and drugstore subcultures. But we’re all centred around helping Canadians live life well. We’ve been engaging everyone to make sure communication is back and forth.

What makes good leadership important at Loblaw?

We are a large corporate family with many distinct businesses, including a grocery business, an international apparel brand and a bank. To me, leadership is about setting the vision. You tell people what the guideposts and the policies are, but allow them to work in their own way in their division.

How do you stay connected to employees leading a large team?

My favourite initiative is something I call a “let’s talk” session. We get together in groups of 20 to 25 people and have a casual conversation about what isn’t going well. It gives me the opportunity to meet people on my team and it allows them to meet each other.

You are an executive sponsor of the Women@Loblaw network. What is that?

More than 70% of the shoppers in our stores are women. It makes business sense to make sure that women are represented in our company, whether in finance, HR, category management or product design. Since 2008, we have increased the number of female store managers by 53%.

As a mentor, how do you perceive your role?

I try to be someone who listens and gives my undivided attention and unbiased opinions. I always give the advice that you don’t have to have a set plan for your career — it’s really long and you need to be happy as you work through it.

Sarah Davis, CPA, CA, joined Loblaw in 2007 and served as chief financial officer from 2010 to July 2014. She earned her bachelor of commerce honours degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and has held senior finance positions at Bell Canada and Rogers Communications.