Claudette McGowan—Driving technological change at one of Canada’s oldest banks
Claudette McGowan, Master of Business Administration, 2011
Based in: Toronto
In 2008, Claudette McGowan was itching to take her career to the next level. She’d spent 8 years as a technology director at the Bank of Montreal (BMO) in Toronto, and she wanted to deploy her tech experience in an executive role at the company, whether that meant retail, or legal, or accounting. First Canadian Place offered a business program, but it would have required her to either take a leave from work or give up weekend time with her family, neither of which she was prepared to do.
“What I thought would be a slam dunk turned out to be a non-starter,” she says.
Athabasca University’s (AU) Master of Business Administration (MBA) program appealed to her not only for its flexibility, but for its embrace of burgeoning technological tools. In 2008, the concept of telework was just starting to permeate the corporate world, and McGowan had been instrumental in bringing mobile working and Skype for Business to BMO. And while she appreciated the opportunity to work around her own schedule, she also knew that AU’s program was rigorous.
“People don’t know how difficult it is and how disciplined you need to be. It’s not a free-for-all.”– Claudette McGowan, MBA graduate
The program also demanded collaboration and participation. When McGowan was completing her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Windsor, she was able to hide in a lecture hall of 300 people and stay anonymous. AU’s program forced her to speak up.
“You’d expect virtual education is isolated, but it’s actually more collaborative,” she says. “You see other points of view. You open your mind and say, ‘Hey, I don’t have that perspective.’”
McGowan was an expert technologist, but it wasn’t until she got to AU that she was trained to think about the customer. She took marketing courses that helped her think about who her end users were and how to engage them. She learned the significance of testing the products with audiences and incorporating their feedback. “I’m now one of the experts in experiential technology, ensuring it has high adoption, brings joy, has utility,” she says.
McGowan had spent most of her university years avoiding accounting courses, but at AU she realized they were crucial—if she wanted to get to the executive level, she’d have to get a handle on managing big budgets and working with a portfolio. In her operations course, she studied logistics, design and how products travel through the supply chain to distribution. Toward the end of the program, she wrote a dissertation about the multigenerational workforce, focusing on the similarities that connect boomers and millennials.
“I couldn’t have gone this far without the financial acumen, the ethics, the marketing, the human experience I got at Athabasca University. I was able to learn on my own dime, on my own time.”– Claudette McGowan, MBA graduate
“They all want to have a sense of community. They all want to be heard. And they all want flexibility,” she says. “I may want to work from home because I have a baby or an ill parent or another constraint that prevents me from being mobile. That spans generations.”
In the years following McGowan’s graduation from AU in 2011, she rapidly moved up the corporate ladder at BMO. She went from a director, in charge of 100 employees, up to a company vice-president, in charge of around 1,000 employees. She brought new email and mobility systems to the bank and helped shepherd the installation of Apple technology at the branches.
She kept supplementing her education, taking courses at Lakehead and Harvard, and last year she was promoted to chief information officer at BMO. She’s currently leading the technology strain for BMO’s splashy new 346,000-square-foot urban campus above the Eaton Centre in Toronto.
“I couldn’t have gone this far without the financial acumen, the ethics, the marketing, the human experience I got at Athabasca University,” she says. “I was able to learn on my own dime, on my own time.”
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