In Her Words Jan 2013: Ellen Costello


CEO/U.S. Country Head, BMO FinancialGroup, highlights leading through a time of change.

Six years ago, I moved to Chicago to become CEO ofHarris Bank after working for BMO Financial Group for 23 years. I’ve always felt fortunate about the opportunities I’ve had with BMO, and this time was no exception.

Over those years, I lived in Toronto, Hong Kong and New York. I was involved in creating solutions for customers, leading teams, managing risk, developing and implementing strategy – all preparing me for what was ahead as CEO of Harris. There was one thing I wasn’t ready for — the financial crisis and economic downturn that followed.

Looking back, it was a catalyst for many things that strengthened Harris, now BMO Harris Bank. It became an opportunity to grow our business while others were preoccupied and struggled. Together as a team, we created a new set of priorities based on customer insights and market opportunity, and that defined our strategy.

Seeking input from our customers was one of my highest priorities. Listening and understanding what was important to them, informed our strategy and approach.

We made customer experience a business priority, redefining our brand and improving the many ways our customers could bank with us. To get this done, it meant engaging the entire team in our objective to effectively turn this time of uncertainty into a period of opportunity and success.

We linked strategy and people as core drivers of customer satisfaction and performance and incorporated our values around diversity and inclusion, which is important to us, our customers and the communities we serve. We added talent and capabilities to strengthen our team and increased our footprint opportunistically.

In visiting many of our branches and locations, I could see how many individuals were committed to our customers and company. Many were women and minorities, and I felt they deserved an opportunity to progress and put their talents to work.

So I made integrating women’s advancement and improving diversity a key part of my agenda. I worked with our leaders to focus on ensuring individual performance in decisions and to balance the mix of ethnic and gender diversity at all levels in the bank. The results are real — not only did our diversity improve during that time, but we received recognition for it. I am proud to say that American Banker has recognized our senior women as a top team three years in a row.

During my time as CEO of Harris, I was fortunate to have led a great leadership team. Each leader brought energy, diverse perspectives and drive to our vision. They were the catalyzing force behind our results in customer loyalty and satisfaction, market share and growth, an enhanced brand and reputation, as well as our presence as a stronger community partner.

We’ve now embarked on a new era with the coming together of Harris and M&I as BMO Harris Bank – the momentum we built is evident now as the combined team takes the business to a new level. It’s something I will always be very proud of.


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