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  • Message from Stephen - Libro's Head Coach

    February 13, 2012
    Stephen Bolton accepted the position of Head Coach, President & CEO of Libro Financial Group effective February 1, 2012. What follows is the content of his speech delivered at Libro’s 61st Annual General Meeting held on January 14 in London. In it Stephen shares his vision for Libro Financial Group, and how Libro will become a world-class organization. We’re pleased to share it with you.

    Thank you Jack - and thank you everyone. I've got to admit I didn't get a lot of sleep after Rick Joyal called to offer me this position - thanks for that Rick. But I consoled myself with a simple notion. How much sleep is Joanne Smit getting, with the thought of Jack home day in and day out...

    Seriously - since the announcement, I've been sleeping very well. In part due to receiving over 200 hundred emails of congratulations and just as many firm hand-shakes. I was and remain truly humbled by your support. And I thank you all for that. It makes my first time up here easy.

    What's not easy is saying goodbye to my leader and mentor of two decades. So I'll save that. Jack - for now, a simple thank you will have to do. Your support and congratulations are especially important to myself, and to Betty, and we know you'll always be close by. I won't try to fill your shoes - I'll add a new pair along side yours for this next stage in Libro's journey.

    And I know I won't be alone. I have the support, honesty, expertise and mutual trust of a great team. We've grown together, competed successfully together. We excel together. That it is the legacy of Jack's Libro.

    When he started his term as CEO over 20 years ago, Libro wasn't even close to what we've built together today. Libro as a brand didn't even exist.

    We have found our voice since.

    I am Libro. So is everyone in this room. (or you can be if you want to have a quick chat with me after we're done here).

    We are 57,000+ owners. We have grown 13 times over since 1988. And we've achieved that remarkable growth organically, while simultaneously improving personal service and introducing Coaching. Growth and service improvement at the same time - no small feat, that.

    The performance you've heard about this morning is yet another example of what we achieve together. Congratulations to all.

    Going forward, we have a solid vision 2020 plan in place. It calls for Libro to become a $4 Billion organization. With 20 branches. And 100,000 owners. A portfolio of $8 Billion - all based on advice that makes a genuine, positive difference in the lives of our owners.

    We have a plan - we'll work the plan.
    We'll achieve what we set out to achieve.

    It looks like I can relax for a few years.

    Probably not. But what a strong business, a strong balance sheet, respect throughout the system and that plan add up to is breathing space.
    To ask questions, to ponder possibilities.
    We have time to explore what could be.
    We can start right now.

    Let's begin with a few things I know for certain.

    One: I know that our co-operative values are more relevant to a new generation today than they have been for many years and changing attitudes. Young adults, our millennials, have come of age in an era of sharing. They share of themselves online - they are community and street smart.

    According to a 2010 survey, they rank being a good parent, succeeding in marriage, helping others in need and owning a home as the top four 'most important things' in their lives.

    They live locally - but they are connected to the wide, wide world like no generation before them.

    Sounds co-operative to me.

    Two: I know Libro has an amazing capacity to compete. We prosper through genuine service. We inspire loyalty instead of buying it. We compete on a platform of mutual success. I'm pretty excited about that. We can sell that.

    Three: I know our region needs a win. A win that comes from a shared purpose, from a defined competitive advantage. Southwestern Ontario has to stand up for something, lead in something. We have to aspire to a greater good together, collectively, collaboratively, co-operatively.

    That is the great economic and lifestyle challenge of this region for the next ten years.
    I think Libro can be a leader in that journey.
    I think Libro has to be a leader in that journey.

    We need to look beyond the past in manufacturing and insurance and large institutions; we have to embrace new realities and create new ideas that contribute to re-invigorated communities and a sustainable economy. In London and Sarnia, from farms to food processing, in Kitchener and Waterloo, in new technology and modes transportation, in Stratford, Strathroy and St. Thomas, in our environment. We have to be a local catalyst for change. That is Libro's role as southwestern Ontario's leading financial institution.

    I believe that completely because there is one more thing I know just as surely. And that is this:

    While we may not compete in other parts of the world, we certainly compete with the rest of the world.

    That certainty has finally come knocking on our door. It will knock on our door every day from now on. Global competitors are now as dialed in to our neighbours as we are. Global competitors are setting expectations in pricing and innovation.

    They're also pushing our competitors to be better...
    Walk into any Royal Bank today and the personal service is smothering. TD Canada Trust spends ten times our advertising budget telling consumers that they are ranked number one in customer service (among banks). No one reads the small print that says 'among banks'.

    Our competition has deeper pockets and more resources. They are competing globally and getting tougher in the process.

    The rest of the world is shaping our future and the future of every business category in this country. You've heard many of the names; Hyundai, Samsung, ING - they are changing how the planet does business around them.

    Then there are the names that are newer. How many of you in the room used Groupon or Kijiji or eBay this past year? How many of you were using those e-commerce sites and practices five years ago? What's happening to retail in Canada as a result? What's happening to retail in London - in Sarnia?

    How many of you in the room have heard of Evernote? It's a company. Actually it's an app - an application - that you can use to organize everything you do and find on line or in your life.
    It helps you 'note' stuff.

    Not a big deal, right? How much can one person need to organize?
    Apparently a lot. Evernote is INC. Magazine's fastest growing company this past year. That none of us have ever heard of. That is adding 40,000 users per day. Per day. Obscure, out of left field. We didn't expect Google 15 years ago either did we. Now we live by it.

    We see this kind of radical change in financial services as well. Existing organizations like American Express are getting into the deposit taking business with entrepreneurs.
    New organizations like mint.com was Money Magazine's top pick for personal financial management.

    And then there's new kid on the block, BankSimple; a U.S. start up founded by one of Twitter's senior developers - an application that is offering features like safe-to-spend; a tool that predicts what you'll need in the future and what it's safe for you to spend today. Online. On your smart phone. On demand.

    Will that change banking? Did Netflix change Blockbuster?

    These organizations are innovators, world thinkers.
    They take risks. Calculated, inventive risks - in every sector. They originate in Canada, too.

    How did a small Canadian fashion-wear company from Vancouver use a trend like Yoga to keep beating earnings expectations, as recently as last week?
    Lululemon did it by re-inventing a category.

    How did Canada's Christine McGee get into bedrooms all across the country when the mattress category had been so tightly controlled by large furniture retailers and department stores? She reinvented the category. She got focused. She equipped her delivery guys with little booties. She now owns the category.

    Libro doesn't compete around the world - we compete with it right here at home. We compete with innovators and risk-takers and category changers. Some are existing businesses that renew their focus - some are based in the Far East, some in India, some in South America. Some didn't even exist last week.  

    As a result, we have to get better - sooner - we have to become the best. We have to become world-class.

    We have to think beyond southwestern Ontario, beyond Canada. We have to ask great questions - and define amazing answers. We have to become world beaters, to be the best at a single point of excellence; and to create the world class support required to sustain it.
    In governance.
    In strategic planning.
    In leadership.
    In our people skills.

    More than anything, we have to define what it means to have a world class culture. Beyond what we are today.

    And let's not forget - we're good already. We're as good if not better than anyone in our region. But that's not enough. Libro culture can become a new standard in financial services regardless of where in the world it is measured.

    That we can do. That we will do.

    Defining and aspiring to a world class culture is what will keep us competitive as the world changes around us.

    If small independent book stores can recalibrate, share ideas, and invent new ways of not only surviving but thriving in a world of amazons, then so can we.

    If the amazons can invent an employee culture that is inspired by packaging and delivering books, then imagine what we can do Coaching financial freedom.

    If the two entertainment professionals in Toronto who invented MAC cosmetics can overturn the existing, deeply entrenched world of L'Oreal and others of that ilk, why can't we do the same with the deeply entrenched world of wealth management?

    We can identify the risks that need to be addressed. We can be a little more daring, more innovative - we can do it from a strong position, without undermining that strong position.

    We can evolve by choice - before it becomes necessary. That's world class.
    That will be our culture.

    That is my Vision for Libro.

    The journey starts today.

    For the next year or so, we'll explore this Vision, ask great questions and discover answers together.

    We'll start working on a culture that isn't satisfied with simply meeting a specific need at a moment in time. That won't be good enough - not in a world of BankSimples and deep pocketed competitors from south Asia.  

    Getting to great is about creating a culture that collectively and co-operatively wants to compete. That compels attention and advocacy. That clearly leads - that does at least one thing so much better than everyone else. To the point where more and more people say... "That Libro - those Libro people - they are truly world class."

    I want to hear that many times before I do my hand off to our next CEO.

    So in keeping with worldly comparisons, here's a Hindu saying that I think makes an appropriate challenge for all of us starting tomorrow.

    "There is nothing noble in being superior to someone else. True nobility is in being superior to your previous self."

    We'll take stock of the world around us. But just as important, we'll take stock of our own capacity to improve. And then act on it. With courage and conviction and compassion.
    That's the journey to world class - I look forward to making it with you.

    Thank you.

    Stephen Bolton