This interview with one of the directors at CI Global Asset Management opens a series where our CEO Henrik Totterman connects with senior executives to discuss the state of leadership under continuously transforming market conditions.
In our recent conversation Claudio Cipolla, Director at CI Global Asset Management emphasized the generic need for leadership to reinvent itself to thrive also during more challenging times. In his work at Canada’s largest investment firm by assets under management, Claudio has a fascinating view of the rapidly transforming finance industry and how creactive leadership can be essential for the evolution of companies. Claudio has over 10 years of leadership experience in the finance world, in investment strategy, portfolio management, and financial analysis. He holds a Bachelor’s from Concordia University and a Master's in Business Administration from Hult International Business School.
Henrik Totterman (HT): How do you define your leadership style?
Claudio Cipolla (CC): I’ve been a people leader throughout various roles in my career and I believe you can lead both indirectly and directly. A leader can positively influence team members simply by their personality. My leadership style is mostly collaborative, bringing in as many people as possible and having their insights into the best next step forward. I would say the mindset I abide by is: I try to inspire people to be the best version of themselves.
Henrik: Why do you think there is an increasing need for creactive leadership?
CC: Leadership needs to be constantly reinventing itself to reflect the modern work environment, and to prepare for the ever-changing challenges they face. I have seen recently a lot of positive transformation in many industries, as leadership has become less hierarchical and the mindset less traditional. Despite the pan epidemic, I think some companies are actually doing quite well. But it takes giving your employees confidence and the resources they need to succeed.
HT: How can we maintain a positive outlook despite ongoing distractions and uncertainties?
CC: The best way is to share the vision, so that all teams are aligned. Once everyone's moving in the same direction, things run a lot smoother, and milestones are achieved.
HT: Have you seen some impact of COVID-19 on the overall well-being and retention of your colleagues in the company?
CC: The balance has been extraordinary. I've been impressed lately with how little the work-life balance has been impacted. In general, people are more positive. I believe it's because instead of micromanaging, they've been given the freedom to do their best. They have a lot of pride in their work.
HT: When you think about creactive leadership, which performance metrics would you recommend? What would be good yardsticks if the company is performing well, but also showing how they can improve?
CC: The primary measure is activity towards set objectives. Activity is critical because it allows companies to see where the pain points are. Once you see these, you can also integrate employee and customer feedback to drive improvement. These offer a nice picture of what's happening internally and also on the client side. I think given our (finance) industry, obviously net sales are significant, but we also need to measure customer acquisition costs, which are high. Retention rates are also vital in the industry. These give a material picture of performance. However, there are so many metrics we can go into, but those are the ones I think are worth looking at most frequently.
HT: How are you assessing implementation and driving improvement?
CC: There have been many positive changes, such as rebranding in the past year to better reflect our offering. A lot more direct relationships. I've seen lots of opportunities to be innovative and a new way of working. I would say assessing our activity is an excellent way to determine if we’re going in the right direction. Constant team communication and feedback are crucial for improvement and high-performance.
HT: Can you provide some examples of employee engagement in your corporate innovation activities, especially now during COVID-19?
CC: First of all, everyone must be able to adapt quickly. The best results we've seen are people with the freedom to create compelling solutions, whether this is a new tool, a new type of resource, or even a presentation geared towards clients - opening the way to a product in a new and innovative way. Typically, we collaborate as a team, while giving individuals the freedom to initiate and drive initiatives.
HT: What kind of client segments are you serving?
CC: Each product has a different offering, a separate - I would say, approach. I think we have traditionally serviced every customer type across Canada. What I've seen just recently is the emergence of crypto investors. That's been a topic that's had a lot of interest. I think millennials are particularly interested in that, and the company has addressed it. Apart from that, the company has always been relatively stable on the client base.
HT: How are companies in your industry safekeeping their intellectual property?
CC: Our industry has a lot of intellectual property that is a closely kept secret. When we think of the largest money managers in the world and hedge funds, this is their secret sauce. Often, however, companies publish proprietary materials, and it’s crafted by their experts. Whenever it is published and shared with clients, it has passed compliance. It’s essential to have that visibility in the market to showcase your expertise. But the research behind that is proprietary and not shared with anyone.
HT: What kind of advice can you provide regarding data collection and analysis? Especially when you think about companies who are just getting started with collecting intelligence for them.
CC: I would say measure as much as possible, collect as much as you can. That way you clearly understand what is working and what isn't, and you protect yourself. Gathering all this data and storing it securely is important. Especially, in the finance industry, where there's a lot of compliance, you must go a step further when collecting data and you need to invest in software to make it easily accessible and to comply with the regulation. I wouldn't just rely on doing this manually. You must invest in this as part of a backbone to keep your firm running smoothly.
HT: How do you assess risks and opportunities when you look at your key partners and suppliers? You have a lot of in-house activities, but you also source things from the broader network, I presume?
CC: Within the industry, there are lots of independent research firms that have special areas of focus. These firms often sell their research to large investment firms and at times establish long-term relationships. I’d say the majority of this work is done in-house, but it’s important to have some key partnerships to leverage when needed. Of course, only working with the best-in-class is key. There are also fund managers who specialize in some regions of the world—investing perhaps in emerging countries. That's a dynamic process I'm not involved in.
HT: How do you prepare and make decisions? Describe a difficult process from strategy to implementation, from your perspective in your company?
CC: I'll talk about my team. We're part of the advisory consulting team, and the decisions usually stem from brainstorming sessions between members of the group. Then we decide on the overall direction. We also have a saying that all decisions must be impactful, and should be actionable. So, we could have something very purposeful, although maybe it's not impactful. On the other hand, it could perhaps be impactful, but it's not actionable. We must put everything together and ensure we can execute.
HT: How do you explore and verify assumptions before you go all in?
CC: I can't speak for the product team because they have their process, and I'm not involved with that side of the business. Based on the industry’s investment strategies, however, I know they test their investment strategy, try their algorithms, and backdate it, let's say, a year, three years, five years. What would have been the return of the investment? Is it positive? How does it compare to the market? Then they'll make a decision. My team is different from the product side. What we're putting together is focused on adding value in many other ways, and we ensure that everything we put together is backed by research or experts.
HT: Finally, I have four words and I would like to have your immediate reaction to each of them. Beginning with the word AGILITY, what comes to your mind?
CC: Able to adapt quickly to any environment.
CC: Positively influence team members regardless of whether they report to you or not.
CC: Building a sustainable strategy.
CC: Ensuring that what you are doing can be actioned upon and drive results.
HT: Thanks Claudio, its been a true pleasure to discuss and learn more about creactive leadership from you!
Thanks Fernando Olivieri for your support and expertise in preparing this article for publication.