Leading a movement

Isabelle Hudon, executive chair, Quebec, and senior vice-president, client solutions, Sun Life Financial, is careful not to confuse leadership and authority.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

I love to inspire those around me. I’m ambitious without being authoritarian. I treat others the way I want to be treated. My role is to set the tone and direction, and incentivize people who are extremely strong in their field to work alongside me. That’s why I’m involved in recruiting my direct reports and those who are two levels below. I meet the candidates to assess their leadership skills, not to make the final decision. I need to know that my first, second and third lines of attack have strong growth potential.

Q: You cofounded L’Effet A, a movement that helps women achieve their professional ambitions. How is it doing after two years?

I’m very proud of the movement: at year-end, close to 650 women will have completed the 100-day program, which now includes training. Graduates are more prone to state their ambitions, and some have already moved up the ranks in their organizations. They create their solidarity network, which men are skilled at doing because they spend time on it and are ready to help one another, even their competitors. My advice to women: your network is powerful. Be inquisitive, show an interest and commit to it.

Q: How do you manage sitting on five boards of directors?

I love to learn about different industries since it allows me to grow. I also have to accept that I can’t get involved in the operations, which is what I do on a daily basis. It’s quite a challenge.

Q: This must keep you very busy at Sun Life.

Definitely. Besides being the executive chair for Quebec, I’m also in charge of client solutions, a new type of proactive communication with clients. Thanks to leading-edge technology, mega data and predictive models, we no longer communicate one message to all, but interact personally with each insured [client], based on everything we know about that person. It’s as though we went from a few dozen massive communication campaigns per year to millions of touch points through direct communications.

Isabelle Hudon headed the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the Marketel ad agency before joining Sun Life Financial in 2010.