PRESIDENT AND CEO
Ellen Costello, president and chief executive of Harris Bankcorp in Chicago, refuses to let the economic downturn get her or her
4,000 employees down.
“As the environment got more difficult, we really got everyone focused on what they can do,
not what they can’t,” Costello said. “It has made
everyone more positive and constructive.”
What Harris can do, and has done, is focus
on customer needs, which means everything
from reaching out to retail customers to assure
them of the bank’s soundness, to stepping up efforts in business banking.
The $50.1 billion-asset company’s commercial banking division hired 40 business bankers
in the past year and grew its revenue 40 percent
year-over-year through June 30, while new accounts increased 60 percent.
Still, she acknowledges that businesses aren’t
too eager to take on new loans these days. “We’re
finding that the customers are dealing with
right-sizing their business...that has driven loan
demand down,” she says. “So our objective remains to establish these new relationships even
if they are not borrowing. We feel they will still
be very valuable for the future.
In the company’s third quarter, which ended
June 30, Harris, a unit of BMO Financial
Group, reported a loss of $10 million, compared
to income of $72 million a year earlier. Those results include the company’s Harris Bank as well
as its private banking and capital markets divisions. The bank, which is Costello’s focus, remained in the black, with income of $21 million,
down 30 percent from a year earlier.
Beyond the financials, Harris also measures
employee engagement. In the three years that
Costello has been at the helm, the company’s enterprise employee engagement, a measure that
indicates employee dedication, has increased six
percentage points, to 74 percent.
The company also won a customer satisfaction nod from J.D. Power and Associates this
year, and its call center was recently certified as a
center of excellence by Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality, a highly coveted designation that only 10 percent of applicants receive, according to Costello.
Those designations are likely a result of initiatives such as the creation of a team dedicated to
helping retail borrowers who are struggling, and
the wealth management arm’s efforts to help re-
54 Favorite pastimes: Family, theater and travel Last book read: Outliers Last movie seen: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” Charity most active in: The United Way One thing on “bucket” list: Travel to new places Top non-business concern: Education
tail customers plan for their future.
Deirdre Drake, senior vice president of human resources for Harris, credits Costello’s management approach. “I think her open and affable
style gives our customers and employees the reassurance that we are going to be at the top of
our game at the end” of the financial crisis, she
says. “She is conscious of the fact that you
shouldn’t lower your head.”
Since arriving from New York, where she
served as head of BMO’s investment banking
group, Costello has been growing Harris
through acquisitions. Costello has engineered
three deals and says she is looking for more.
Asked to identify her key to success, Costello
said simply: “I don’t believe there is anything we
can’t do. If it gets tough, I get more determined.”
GROUP HEAD FINANCE AND CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
TD BANK FINANCIAL GROUP
Colleen Johnston is taking swimming lessons this fall, as she works toward her goal
of completing a sprint triathlon. Mind you, she has a fear of swimming.
“It’s one of those lifelong challenges that I have never conquered,” says Johnston,
the chief financial officer at the $505 billion-asset TD Bank Financial Group in Toronto.
Though she is cautious about overpromising—“We’ll see if I can get there. I think I
can”—her success with corporate initiatives suggests she has the tenacity to get
there indeed. Since Johnston became the founding chairman of TD’s Women in Leadership Committee in late 2005, the representation of women in executive positions at
the company has increased by half, to 33 percent.
Over the past year she also headed an initiative that cut $250 million of annual expenses simply by negotiating better deals with suppliers. Ed Clark, the company’s
president and chief executive officer, heaps praise on Johnston, calling her a visionary
leader who is instrumental in TD’s overall success. Her expertise in risk management,
which helped TD avoid pitfalls like subprime mortgage lending in the U.S., continues
to be evident in the company’s strong performance through the recession, Clark says.
In its fiscal third quarter, which ended July 31, the company reported a 17 percent increase in net income from a year earlier, after adjusting for unusual items.
Despite the challenging environment, TD decided against contracting; it wants to
emerge from the crisis with its business model of enthusiastic customer service and
convenience intact. So the focus instead became how to wring out savings without
cutting employees or branches, Johnston says.
The effort began last year after the company bought Commerce Bancorp in Cherry
Hill, N.J., now rechristened TD Bank. Johnston says that TD now has about 1,100 branches
on each side of the border and bills itself as “the first truly North American bank,” which
has helped to increase its buying power. “That’s a huge advantage we have now.”
Johnston’s financial savvy is matched by her people skills, according to Clark, who
says she has a rare combination of talent that makes
her a great manager and a great spokesperson.
“There’s nobody that understands better how we
make money and the risks we’re taking...she’s obvi-
ously so much in command,” Clark says.
Johnston says Clark himself is passionate about
diversity, which helps ensure efforts like the Women
in Leadership Committee—which facilitates networking, mentoring and career planning for women—
She is also pleased that colleagues feel the effort
is working. In an internal survey last year, nearly 80
percent of respondents agreed that the company had
made “significant progress” with its initiatives for
women, she says.— Bonnie McGeer
Traveling and reading
Two (ages 17 & 20)
Last book read:
Prisoner of Tehran
Last movie seen:
“The Time Traveler’s Wife”
Charity most active in:
Heart & Stroke Foundation
One thing on “bucket” list:
Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
Top non-business concern: