Episode 17

Episode 17: Three CEO leadership questions for Kevin

Steve sits down with Kevin Strain, President & Chief Executive Officer at Sun Life, to discuss how he’s approaching his new role as CEO.

Steve Peacher: Hi everybody thanks for joining this episode of “Three in Five,” this is Steve Peacher, President of SLC Management. I'm really pleased today to be joined by Kevin Strain, who's newly minted CEO of Sun Life Financial and my boss, by the way, so Kevin thanks for joining.

Kevin Strain: Thanks Steve, it's great to communicate this way, so awesome.

Steve Peacher: So we, I just wanted to ask Kevin a few questions today about what it's like to be entering such a such a big job, you know as you come into this new role as CEO what are you most excited about and what are you most nervous about?

Kevin Strain: Steve you're right it's a huge privilege to lead a company like Sun Life that's global in nature, but really helps people in many ways and it's really our purpose of helping clients achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives. I find it motivating – I know it's motivating for our people, I find it motivated for me and we're doing that, globally. And we're making such a huge difference in people's lives and the fact that we're a Canadian company that is the biggest part of our businesses in the U.S., one of the fastest growing is Asia, the fact that everybody thinks of us as an insurance company, but half of our income comes from asset management and we've been able to build this incredible alternative asset management platform under you and SLC Management. There's just so many exciting things. What we're doing in digital, how we're thinking about sustainability, how we're thinking about diversity equity and inclusion, it's a really exciting time and it's a company that really helps people and I'm excited about that.

Steve Peacher: You know, it takes a lot of diverse qualities, I think, to do the job of CEO and when you think about what are some of the most important leadership qualities that you think an effective CEO needs to embody?

Kevin Strain: Strategy is one thing right, but strategies are easily duplicatable style studies are easily to, every consultants kind of hocking in the same strategy as they talk to you. It's really about engaging people, creating a culture that that that supports them to be the best that they can be to really to really execute really well. So for me the, the most important thing is somebody who can lead their people and I played a fair bit of soccer, even coached some soccer, and when you're a leader of people, when you're a leader of teams, you have to identify what, how to get the most out of all your people, and it can be different things you do with different people to do that. So, I think the most effective leaders are great coaches right, they understand their team, they understand the individuals on the team, they understand how the individuals work individually, but also how they work as a group. And they create a culture that gets the most out of that. The other thing that I found that is really important is self awareness, and so your role on the team, and what your skills are and where you need to be leveraged. So you know it's I think that really the most important thing is being an effective people leader, which means developing, retaining, attracting good people, but it also means developing the culture.

Steve Peacher: You know to be a CEO of any public company, especially a public financial institution, is a 24-7 job. And so, how do you personally maintain balance in your own life, so that when you can bring as much energy and focus to that CEO role and not burn yourself out?

Kevin Strain: For me and Steve, I think you know this and I because I've seen you in the gym a lot, for me exercise is really important. I can know that when we've gone on a lot of conferences in the morning there may be 100 people in the conference, but there's not 100 that are in the gym, but you and I are usually there. And I think that's important that if you if you have a healthy body that gives you energy. If you live healthy, if you exercise, if you eat well, it gives you energy to do your job and you're better at it, so I try to make sure I've run a fair bit, I think you know I’ve run some half marathons, I've run one full marathon, I played some soccer when I was in, well I played soccer my whole life but played when I was in Asia. We do a lot of hiking now, we took up cross country skiing this winter, so finding ways to do that. I'd say the second thing, I've been thinking about this a lot more, and so the first one is really about me personally, but the second thing is you know, having a great team – which I do with the executive team – and trusting them to do their job and not trying to do their job, right? I don't have to do everybody's job, I just have to do my job, and my job is about integrating a bunch of people who are really good at their jobs and helping them see across all the different variables that they have to work through, so I think having a good team, trusting your team, knowing your role in the team, all are really important as well, but for me if I don't get exercise I find I my own personal productivity starts to slide.

Steve Peacher: Yeah, no I feel the same way, well thanks for taking those questions, let me throw one personal question at you before we end. You've mentioned soccer a couple times, I know you've been big soccer player, I know you used to play as you mentioned out in Asia. Now you're in a very demanding role as we just talked about. So, how are you staying connected to the soccer pitch, are you getting out there, who's your favorite team, like, how are you know, it's a it's a passion, how do you stay connected to it?

Kevin Strain: Yeah you know that that hurts a lot Steve because I'm an Arsenal fan and they're just not off to a good start this year, and I they think they play Mancity and Chelsea over the next few weeks too. I try to watch a little bit. I watched the Olympics, I mean, the Canadian women's team got their first Gold Medal and that was that was great for us to sneak past the U.S. in the in the semi-finals was awesome, so you know I think just watching a bit, and you staying connected I'm kind of like you I and I like to watch the sports scene, I went to actually a fair bit of NBA which I was surprised I kind of got into it, I like it a lot, a fair bit of the NHL, you know, getting a little bit of a fix. My dad's a huge sports fan, and so that's a great way for us to talk so I kind of use that that angle that kind of. I wish I can play more, it's just well it's been impossible under Covid too, but I'm also getting a little bit older. My injuries don't they don't heal as quickly as they used to.

Steve Peacher: Well, maybe you can start a Canadian CEO soccer league in your spare time so. Well, listen Kevin thanks for spending a few minutes with us today with these questions and thanks everybody for tuning in to this episode of “Three in Five.”

Kevin Strain: Great, thanks Steve.

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