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Listen: Masters of Risk | Episode 6: Masters of Risk-Jennifer Reynolds

Welcome to our sixth episode of Masters of Risk. Join Yashi Yadav as she speaks with Jennifer Reynolds, CEO of Women's Corporate Directors. Yashi discusses Jennifer's experience in investment management, venture capital, M&A, and her experience on boards. We learn about her impact on women in the boardroom and how she has made major changes in the industries. This episode is empowering and insightful.

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Yashi Yadav

Welcome to Masters of Risk, the podcast where we uncover what is top of mind for business leaders today. I'm Yashi Yadav, and I will be your host every month. Let's get started.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Masters of Risk, a podcast hosted by S&P Global Market Intelligence. My name is Yashi Yadav. And joining me today is Jennifer Reynolds, who is currently the CEO of Women Corporate Directors Foundation, along with being a corporate Board Member.

All right, Jennifer, thanks for joining us today.

Jennifer Reynolds

I'm delighted to be here.

Yashi Yadav

So I'm really excited about a couple of the different topics that we are going to be touching on today. I think what would be really great for our listeners, if you could just go ahead and kick us off by giving us a little bit of a background in terms of your journey within this industry, some of the different roles and responsibilities that you've held, anything else that may be of interest.

Jennifer Reynolds

I've been in the financial services industry now for 25 years. Most of my experience was in the capital markets. I started off for a couple of years in global risk management and then moved to investment banking for about 12 years and covered a pretty broad cross-section of industries, but then later in my tenure, focusing on the technology industry. And so that led me actually to a role in the venture capital industry for a couple of years, spent some time there.

And then my career took a bit of a twist in that I was asked to run an organization called Women in Capital Markets, which is Canada's largest network of women in financial services. Clearly coming from the capital markets, not a lot of women there staying was a problem in the industry. And so I was going to get the opportunity to really try to work on that issue, attract them into the industry, ensure that they were rising up into leadership roles.

It turned out to be really -- it was a not-for-profit, so very, very different from working in the capital markets through a large global bank. I always tell people my timing was fortuitous. I think that -- I started that role in 2013, and there really was a growing focus finally on making progress on this and really trying to craft and trying to get better gender diversity, and we were getting much better engagement from men in the industry on the topic as well. So spent almost 5 years there.

I did a lot of work at that point too around women on boards because Canada was just introducing diversity disclosure for their publicly traded companies. So really got involved in that movement as well. I then moved on to an international role representing Canada's financial services sector internationally at various networks and tables and promoting our financial center and trying to create collaboration between different financial centers around the world.

And during that time, I was also starting to serve on corporate boards and then along came a call that Women Corporate Directors Foundation, which is a unique organization that's 2,500 women corporate directors around the world, about half in the U.S. and the rest spread over 5 continents. And it focuses on, clearly, diversity on boards, but corporate education, ensuring we are helping directors to be the best directors, they can be leaders in corporate governance, and then obviously as well to provide a network, a trusted network for these women.

So for me, it was a bit of a great cross-section of many things that I had been working on in terms of diversity, the work I'd done in diversity in terms of my career that was then sort of going into that career of Corporate Director in a very international organization, and really enjoyed my prior role working on a more international stage. So it's been very interesting. And I've been in the role now for 1.5 years and certainly an interesting organization with some absolutely fabulous women in it.

Question and Answer

Yashi Yadav

That's amazing to hear. I think just taking into consideration all the different sort of segments and landscape within the capital markets that you've worked in, I'm just starting to unpack your back story. I'd love to begin with getting a bit more of an understanding on your experiences of the different risks that exist based on the role or function that you held, right?

So what was it like when you were -- what were some of the key risks when you were working on more of an international stage versus when maybe you were sitting on a board or working at a venture capital or a bank? I know those are a lot of different questions to address. But even if you could give us a little bit of a compare-and-contrast type of color around that.

Jennifer Reynolds

I'll talk first of all about the different roles that I've held within the capital markets because the perspective on risk has been very, very different. I started off in risk, as I mentioned earlier. So that, clearly, you've got a certain perspective there, right? When you're sitting in the risk seat or the one who's evaluating the credit risk and deciding whether you want to extend capital.

And then moving to investment making, it's a different lens, right? You want to get deals done. You want to bring capital to your clients. Your tolerance for risk is obviously higher than when you're sitting on the risk side of the table. However, I was working for very large corporations, right? So you've had a lot of data to analyze. You were making educated -- educating guesses, or guesses maybe isn't the best word, but you are -- you understood the company, you understood the financials.

That's very different when you go then to venture capital, because venture capital is a whole different animal in terms of evaluating risk, right? That really is about evaluating a person as much as a business idea. That entrepreneur in front of you, they're going to make or break it. Sure, the idea has to be great, but you don't generally, if it's earlier stage, have a lot of financials to go on. And even if it's a little bit later stage, it's still taking that leap from tiny start-up to scaling something is clearly so many risks come in there.

But again, I think so much about the entrepreneur and that the team as well as the idea. So again, a very different perspective on risk. The one sort of overarching comment, though, just to broaden out based on your question is, when I was in risk, I'm going back now to you, I'm going to date myself. It was 1998 to 2000 when I sat in that seat. And it was -- that's a very different time when you think about the types of risks that we were looking at. They are really financial, obviously very financial focus, legal focus, things like that. But today, risk is just so much broader, I mean the risk we're looking at as managers of business and as Board Directors.

Clearly, as you know, that delves now into the environment, into the social issues. Those things worked on the table in the same way back then. So now it's much more complex. If you think about supply chain, much more complex. You think about geopolitical environment, much more complex. So I think as a director and as managers of businesses, this is a very different time. And risk has come to mean something very different today than it did in the past.

Yashi Yadav

I think that completely made sense. And even just thinking about the time line, right? I mean since 2000, just over the last 2 decades, we've had the financial crisis, the housing crisis. We just went through a pandemic a few years ago, the repercussions of which we're still experiencing today. So keeping that in mind, I would be curious if you -- what was your experience like during the crisis of '08, '09?

And how is your perspective in terms of how you approach your risk-focused roles or not even just financial risk, but even from a human capital standpoint or reputational standpoint, what were some things that -- what were some storms that you weathered and how they've influenced the way that you approach your leadership roles today?

Jennifer Reynolds

Well, I think hitting '08, '09, that's a very different beast, right, than COVID. I would argue it was a self-created crisis by the financial services industry. And yes, but that certainly shaped -- those of us who went through that, that shaped our perspectives for the future. There's no doubt about it.

I'd like to think some of us maybe got smarter, but thinking about the rest and thinking about group think, I think that kind of crisis would argue that there wasn't enough diversity at the table, diversity of thought and diversity of perspectives and there wasn't enough focus on the risks that we were just talking about. It needed a different solution than COVID.

You moved to COVID and pandemic, I mean that was an incredibly challenging time for everybody for the financial services sector for -- in terms of trying to support the economy. And governments and the financial services sector are working much more closely together to try to get us through this thing. So I think that was an interesting time, and I was running Toronto Finance International at that point. So I had the opportunity to not only have a lens into what was happening in Canada between our financial services sector and the government and the different mechanisms that we were using to support the economy and people through that period.

I was involved with several -- 2 specifically international networks of financial centers. And so over that period, we were also meeting and I was getting a lens into what is France doing, what is the U.K. doing, what are different countries around the world doing to get through this crisis from a financial perspective and to support their economy and to support people.

So I think that was actually extremely valuable because we were able to meet in those international forums and then bring that back to the table in our own countries and talk about the different mechanisms people were using and potentially consider them for our own country to think about, that's a great over idea they've developed over there, why don't we use that here? So -- and that's the benefit of those international networks, right? Really just to be able to -- it's always about competition between financial centers. There's a lot of times where collaboration is really important.

Yashi Yadav

I can definitely agree there. And so would you be able to maybe share with us an example where you were in this collaborative environment and someone brought to the table or brought for us an idea that you did take back to the Canadian financial services industry, and you saw the success story of taking a concept, bringing it to your work, bringing it more local and then watching it take off?

Jennifer Reynolds

Yes. I'll talk about another international network that I was part of, I co-chaired for a period of time, and it's a UN-convened network of financial centers. It's called Financial Centres for Sustainability. And so it started in 2017 when I just went into the CEO role with Toronto Finance International. And at the time, there were 7 countries, 7 financial centers who had representatives like myself and got together at the request of the UN to talk about was there a need for a network of financial centers focusing on how do we build capacity in the sustainable finance market? How do we drive capital from the private sector into all the very important work we need to do to meet our climate goals?

And so there was a lot of interest in it. And so it ended up building to now 42 countries from around the world. And so I think while the importance of that we found was that it really was everybody has a thirst to try to figure this out, right? How do we get capital into the right projects? How do we really have an impact so that we are meeting our climate goals? And we know we can't do it fast enough, right? So we don't want to all just be in our own corners trying to figure this out on our own. We all understood we have to get together to speed up the velocity of how we're tackling these problems.

I think there were just so many cases that came out in that network we did, whether it was different thoughts on -- maybe this doesn't sound to be the most exciting thing, but taxonomy, right? Like how do you talk about climate? What is [ Cree ]? Right. And different countries around the world were at different places. You're clearly much further ahead than other countries. So by being able to look and seeing what are they doing on that front, we could bring that back to Canada and say, "Okay, this is how Europe's approaching it. This is how different countries are approaching these different elements that we need to figure out and bring those learnings back and really speed up the process."

And so I think, certainly, in the case of Canada, I think being able to look to see what other people were doing allowed us to move more quickly and increase our knowledge about what needed to be done and also bring best practices back to Canada. And that's not to say we figured it out nor is anyone at this stage. But I think those types of collaboration on many fronts, in particular, when we think about sustainability and climate goals, in particular, I think we really need to leverage what's happening, good work that's happening around the world and not try and do everything on a bespoke kind of solution.

Yashi Yadav

Yes. I can definitely agree with that. I know that climate and sustainability has been a huge focus here in the states, especially recently given kind of all the challenges that we've been facing over the last few years and all the research and data that's been coming out. We're finally starting to follow some of our European colleagues.

So Jennifer, something that I'd like to almost pivot into a little bit now is when we were talking about your experience with risk and the economy and kind of the different areas that you have your experience in. I'd love to dive into the concept of capital allocation and your opinions around that, how -- what you've seen in terms of how capital has historically been allocated, how -- what are some changes that you'd like to see or have seen -- just your thoughts on that.

Jennifer Reynolds

Yes, it's a really important topic, obviously, from a number of different perspectives. We could talk about -- if you're thinking about the E, the environment, climate, how do we make sure the capital is going into those types of projects and that they're getting the attention that they need. I think the other perspective you can think about is who's getting the capital. And in my background, I think a lot about women in the economy, and we know that women aren't getting the capital in the VC world. That's just a reality. Right?

Yashi Yadav

Yes, it's unfortunate.

Jennifer Reynolds

The percentage of capital that goes. Yes, it's very unfortunate. Percentage of capital that goes to women is just so low. And that's not because women don't have good ideas. I mean, I sat in those chairs and had people come in the door and pitch their business, their idea. And unfortunately, we didn't see a lot of women coming in the door. And I think that's not that there weren't women entrepreneurs out there.

I just think that they weren't even making it in the room because they didn't have the right networks, right? It's how do you even get in the room with people was question number one. And I think a lot of underrepresented groups, not just women, have that exact problem. They don't have the network and so they can't even get in the room to pitch the right people.

And then when they get in the room, you don't see anyone who looks like you and the people who you're across the table from probably are fairly similar. I'll just put it that way. And so do they understand sort of some of the problems you're trying to attack and your perspective that you're bringing to the table? So I think it was almost sometimes I felt like they were speaking in different language than the people they were across the table from.

And so that was a difficult situation for me to be in as a woman to just see that disconnect between an entrepreneur who has a great idea, but just perhaps can't be understood because we need more diversity at the table. We need other people who have different perspectives and are going to come at problems through different ways. So I think that is a huge problem in how capital -- in the venture capital industry, for sure. No doubt about it. It continues to be a huge problem.

And -- but I think from a -- then you go up the food chain a bit and you think about larger banks even. We know that even on those -- some banks have very concerted efforts to try to make sure that they are getting capital loans out to women that we know historically, it has been very challenging, more challenging for women to access capital even from the banking sector. So I think -- and underrepresented groups as well, just those who again will have to work, perhaps, with the language of banking, right?

They didn't grow up in financial services like we did. So it's -- I think that's something we really need to think about. It's part of it is a dual question of diversity, right? Diversity of thought and making sure that we're including everybody in that allocation of capital in a fair way and making sure that great ideas are getting funded, not just the ones that come from the same type of person, right, and from that same network all the time.

Yashi Yadav

No, I completely agree with that school of thought. And I think that some of the work that's being done at Women Corporate Directors, for example, is a starting point in terms of bringing those voices to the table and almost even providing mentorship to help inspire confidence in women to go out and actually pursue those opportunities, pursue the funding or whatever it might be to bring their concepts right to fruition. I would love to know if you could share a little bit in terms of how Women Corporate Directors is doing that today and also other avenues that could potentially be leveraged as a starting point.

Jennifer Reynolds

Yes. I think I always say to people, the magic of Women Corporate Director is the network. That's the glue that keeps everyone together. And that's what make -- it's the special thing about us because it created that network for women, right? That network of powerful women. These are women who are on Boards, have had success in their career. And by pulling them all together that there's an immense amount of influence that you can wield when you get all those people into a room, and some of that happens at the local level, city by city, you've created strong networks around the world.

And that does provide -- it provides opportunities because then all of a sudden, when a director role comes up, all of a sudden, that group of women has a big network to draw up on and bring those women into those opportunities. And I think that goes for business opportunities as well, right? That network is helping to pull each other up. and pull more women into the network and empower women and their economies locally and then obviously, broadly on a national level and even on an international level.

So -- and we see that collaboration happens between countries within the WCD network and provides opportunities outside your own borders and opportunities, business opportunities, director opportunities. So I think that is -- it's really important. And I think that's why we are different from -- I mean you can go and get corporate governance education in a lot of different places, right? You're not going to get this network.

And so that's really the unique thing. And I think it is really important to create these networks. I was just -- a bit of a separate note, but I was just at a UN event, and it was focused on the lack of influence women wield within their cities, both from an economic perspective and the fact that they're not -- only 5% of mayors around the world are women. So they don't...

Yashi Yadav

Oh wow.

Jennifer Reynolds

Yes. And cities have a massive influence, right, on our lives, like on transportation, on house care...

Yashi Yadav

Yes, absolutely.

Jennifer Reynolds

The general environment, right? So it's just -- the goal of that whole meeting again was collaboration, bringing people together from around the world and sort of thinking about great ideas and how we can really rise up together and pull each other up in both the economy and in that case, within our cities as well. So I think it's -- we still need these types of networks. It's really, really important.

Yashi Yadav

Yes. And I think continuing to expand them, to your point, is also something in terms of what we should be focusing on. Now obviously, I think with the women component, the diversity component, that definitely is a huge factor for how to continue making progress over the longer term and almost how to diminish some of the risks that are present at a large corporation or a bank. In addition to that component, what are some other areas of risk maybe that you think are not being focused on or not, but are almost hiding in the shadows, somewhere that we're not looking or realizing today but could come to be a much larger issue down the road?

Jennifer Reynolds

Yes. I think when you think about the whole diversity front, not just general diversity but broader diversity, there has been a lot of work being done. And all of a sudden, everybody hired a diversity officer and built teams around their diversity efforts. And that's all really important. I'm not making fun of it. I think a very important part of the past. But what I think is the risk right now is inclusiveness.

Like that's the real question, right? Like if you go out and you recruit 50-50, let's say, or you get underrepresented groups represented in an appropriate way within your organization. The question I have for businesses and managers and Board of Directors is, have you changed the environment by doing that? Or did you just ask a bunch of people to come in and fit with your culture? And fit, I think, is one of those dangerous words when it comes to corporate culture because I think fit means sameness. And I don't think that's what we're trying to -- that's not the end goal here when we think about diversity and inclusion.

It's supposed to be that we change the dialogue. It's supposed to be that we ask different questions. It's supposed to be that we're the creativity that comes to the table, the innovation is more powerful and different than it would be otherwise. And we do know, I mean I won't take you through it because I'm sure you read the studies, but study after study tell us that our diversity and leadership around the table, we get business -- better business results.

I don't think we're really leveraging it to its fullest extent, I guess, is my point. And so I think it's a really hard one, right, because it's a soft issue. It's how as a Board Director, how do I measure culture within the companies that I'm sitting upon the Boards that I'm sitting, right? Because it's hard. You can get people to fill up surveys and things like that, but does it really tell you if -- when different people come in the door, are they really welcomed? Has the dialogue changed? And are we are creating an environment that really is going to keep those people, too?

And that's always a good test, too, is if you're hiring diversity, is it staying, is one way that you certainly can assess that risk. But we talk about that quite a bit actually in some of the boardrooms and some of the meetings that WCD holds. What should we be doing as directors, right? And how are you really understanding the culture? Because we all know talent right now is just -- there's such a focus on talent. I mean despite the fact that there's been layoffs in certain industries, there's still a big competition out there for good talent and everything...

Yashi Yadav

Oh absolutely.

Jennifer Reynolds

So these softer issues, I think, are the ones that will keep the great talent and create great companies.

Yashi Yadav

Yes. And based on what you're saying, I can tell you firsthand, I'm sure you've experienced it as well when you were either switching careers or even when you're considering different firms to work for, there's always a reputational component based off of word-of-mouth, based off of kind of outside of what we're hearing in the news. To your point, that concept of culture is something that everyone, especially today, is trying to stay on top of because you don't want to go -- it's hard to be passionate about a role and about the responsibility that you're holding or the work that you're doing if it's not supported properly by your peers or more senior level management. So...

Jennifer Reynolds

Yes. Yes, it's got to be real. A lot of times, you'll see companies, it's been -- it's on vogue to like have a little slogan at the end of your e-mail about your values. Like it's not something -- like, okay, that's great, but are you living the values? Is that real? Because a lot of times, it's not real. And people are getting very skeptical when they see something like that and the disconnect, and they'll walk.

They'll vote with their feet and walk out the door. So I think it's something that good companies are really trying to think about. Like you make a big bold statement about diversity or climate, well, your employees as well as your customers, they want to see you doing what you said you were going to do, right, and having the impact that you said you were going to have. So I think it's a lot more challenging to be a manager and to be a leader today than it was in the past because all of a sudden, you're getting measured on things that are not just the bottom line.

Yashi Yadav

Yes. No, you're completely correct there. And I guess in lieu of that, how do you see businesses changing in the future? I mean even outside of just the human component, right? Or I guess in addition to the human component, when we think about leaders and diversity and recruiting and talent, do you see there being, I guess, just the way that we do business changing, whether we collaborate more with technology or there's the way organizations are structured, looks differently. I mean what are some either observations you had or just thoughts you have in terms of going forward, your forward-looking opinions on that?

Jennifer Reynolds

Yes. It's interesting. I just had a really good discussion with a group of people -- or in a few different issues, but one of them was business schools. Like what are we teaching in business school and how has it changed? And the view around the table was that -- we need to change the curriculum at schools. It's got to go beyond what it did when I got my MBA a long time ago, right?

It really needs to take into consideration a lot of the things that we've been talking about today in terms of broader areas of risk, in terms of sustainable finance, in terms of these bigger issues in the economy and some of the social issues that all of a sudden companies are expected to weigh in on, which they never were before, right? And so what is a successful business? And how do you think about stakeholders, not just shareholders, differently than we did in the past? So I think that it could start there.

Clearly, we can't wait for new graduates to come in to change everything. We also have to be working on it within our businesses. But I do think that -- I think the business world has changed. I do think it's real, this focus on stakeholder as opposed to shareholder, and that people have to be really intentional about that and figure out how you get that real feedback as we were talking about earlier. Like how do you reach in your stakeholder base as a senior leader, as a Board Member, and understand what do they really want because it can get pretty dangerous. And cancel culture, right? Like if you lose sight of that, all the sudden you're canceled.

And so it could really hurt your bottom line when you do see something wrong in the social side or the way you treat your employees and the way you treat the environment, and that can have a massive impact on your business. So I think business is changing, and I think that pace of change will increase. I think technology as well is the other one that will have a huge impact because it's moving the velocity of change from a technology perspective, only increases.

So I think from that perspective as well, you can't -- you have to act a lot more quickly. And a lot of the risks involved with technologies like AI and others are new. And everybody is grappling with them and trying to understand them because they're potentially huge areas of risk. Huge areas of opportunity, but risk. And so I think we need to assess that as well. So all that to say, I think a much more complex environment, no doubt about it, but it's interesting. And I do think that there's lots of opportunity for companies who are willing to think about their business and think about the world and the economy in a different way than we have in the past.

Yashi Yadav

Yes. And I think that's what's so great when we think about this. And when hindsight 2020, you look to the past and you realize how far we've come and then get excited about, to your point, all the opportunity that exists going forward.

So to wrap this up. My next question, I think, will be the most important that I have for you for today. When, Jennifer, is the next vacation that you are taking, given all of the different roles that you hold? And I know getting time with you. One, thank you so much for making time to be on the podcast today. But two, when are you taking some time off and what are you doing with it?

Jennifer Reynolds

Well, that actually is a great question because my husband and I this summer were saying, we just haven't gotten away in a long time. We've done some stuff. I have 6 kids. So we've done family vacations and stuff. But my husband and I are actually going on a vacation, just the 2 of us, to Australia in December. So that's our big vacation. We're very excited about it, and he's never been. I've been before. But yes, I'm taking a vacation. It's long overdue, but it is going to happen at the end of 2023.

Yashi Yadav

Awesome. Well, that sounds like some much needed relaxation time, Jennifer, and I'm really excited for you. And I just want to thank you so much for making the time to join us here today on Masters of Risk. I really enjoyed our conversation and feel like I walked away with a lot more insight on being a woman in the boardroom or having a more senior level position along with just the variance of risk in different segments of the capital markets. And I hope that this was an informative conversation for our listeners as well, and I look forward to speaking with you soon and having you maybe join us at some point in the future.

Jennifer Reynolds

Well, same to you. I enjoyed the conversation, too. Thank you for having me. Awesome.

Yashi Yadav

Thanks, Jennifer. Bye.

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