Sharpen Your Axe: Corporate Social Responsibility

Our panel, corporate and not for profit were similar in their beliefs about the power and necessity of socially responsible organizations.

Hillman asserts “CSR is not new but more and more candidates are looking at the organizations social purpose record before joining them! And staying longer because of their company’s ongoing commitment to doing well by doing good!”

More than 30 Senior leaders joined the conversation about CSR and it’s relationship to attracting and retaining talent.

Jay Rosenzweig, CEO of Rosenzweig and Company and strategic partner of the Bigwin Group with Hart.

Jason Winkler of Deloitte challenges the panel.

Tova White of Coca-Cola and Mary-Alice Vuicic of Loblaw and Companies share some thoughts.

Bassem El-Rahimy (recent graduate of Queen’s University) and “millennial” enjoys words of wisdom from John Hebden of Fusion Consulting.

Laura Dunne of Indigo asks the panel about the importance of CSR to their respective companies.

Sharpen Your Axe: NYC Edition

Last week we hosted and moderated a “Sharpen Your AxeTM” leadership panel in New York City at Soho House. The theme of the event was Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) a topic that itself is not new.
However, the focus of this session was specifically how those companies that actively pursue and achieve great CSR gain a competitive edge in terms of attracting and retaining top talent.

The panel was made up of senior representatives of five companies that, despite being extremely diverse, share the common element of having rich CSR profiles. Leaders (senior HR, CSR and C-level panelists) represented Hewlett-Packard (HP), Avon, Pearson Learning, JPMorgan & Chase and a bespoke safari outlier company, Micato.

Each panelist spoke with genuine passion and pride about what they and their respective companies were involved in from the perspective of corporate giveback. As you might imagine, just like the companies themselves, the range of their activities was remarkable.

JPMorgan & Chase talked about a $100M+ investment in the city of Detroit to revitalize the local economy. Pearson spoke about the synergy between their core corporate mission and their CSR activities surrounding literacy – the two are truly interwoven. Avon has been a long-standing advocate of key women’s issues, supporting the fight against breast cancer, for example, and dealing with the trauma created by domestic violence and working towards its prevention. HP, having more than 250,000 employees around the world, shared a bit about its very individualized CSR approach: each employee was given $25 dollars to creatively micro-invest through a micro-funding organization called Kiva.

Dennis Pinto, CEO of Micato Safaris shared a heart-rending story of a young orphan who came into contact with one of Micato’s leaders (Lorna MacLeod) many years ago in a parking lot in Nairobi. A local schoolmaster had tasked the youngster with raising the 700 shillings (about $12 dollars) required to purchase a uniform and enroll in the school. He had managed to raise only 100 shillings at that point and the Micato representative immediately gave the boy the additional funds. The boy, overwhelmed by the life-changing gift, broke into tears of gratitude (and enrolled in the school.) Micato has subsequently provided funding for a school child in Africa with every safari they sell… But it all started from the organic experience of the little orphan boy in the parking lot.

So what were some of the takeaways from the event?

There were a few…

CSR must be authentic and relevant. The more that internal and external stakeholders feel and believe those key elements in place, the more they will be inclined to participate and engage. Naturally too, the more pride they will have in their company and its involvement. Each of the companies’ participants spoke with sincere passion and excitement about what they were doing. It was not “faked,” nor could it be… They each told stories that inspired and captured the imaginations of the audience and, most assuredly, those of their teams and employees.

In the end, it was all about the stories they shared.

Sharpen Your Axe: Social Entrepreneurism

The Bigwin Group, a global talent management organization, is presenting this session as part of our “Sharpen Your Axe” series to offer a platform for thought leadership among senior executives.

In the last 5-10 years, both individuals and businesses are jumping on the social responsibility bandwagon “doing well by doing good”. Whether the motivation has been simply pragmatic or with the very purest of intentions to positively impact humanity, the net result is the same and extremely positive.

Interview with Hart Hillman: The Impact of Brand on Talent

Branding strategy is key to the success and failure of companies. It can take years to build and due to social media be negatively impacted in a heartbeat. Think of brands that have dealt with major scandals, such as: Volkswagen, FIFA, Bill Cosby, and Ashley Madison. Creating a consistent and compelling company brand in the digital age is more important than ever. While branding practices will always be the cornerstone to attract and retain customers, they also are being used to attract and retain great talent.

Join CATAAlliance’s Chief Business Officer Kevin Wennekes as he interviews Hart Hillman, CEO & Founder of Bigwin Group in a discussion on the importance of brand on talent succession and retention as well as offering details on the upcoming sixth “Sharpen Your Axe” event being held May 26th in Toronto.


The Bigwin Group, a global talent strategy organization, along with co-sponsors Manulife Financial, announces its sixth “Sharpen Your Axe™” event in its series of thought-provoking leadership sessions. This edition is called “Building a Brand from the Inside Out: How brand can serve to attract and retain great talent” and will be held at the Ivey Tangerine Learning Centre on May 26th, 2016. Welcoming a panel of distinguished speakers from internationally recognized brands such as Manulife Financial, Tangerine, Carter’s OshKosh, Samsung Canada, and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP), our esteemed panel will not only articulate their respective brand strategies but will also engage in a provocative Q&A in identifying brand and how it gives their organizations strong competitive edge.


CATAAlliance is seeking thought leaders to take part in our newly launched video channel dedicated to addressing key issues related to talent management and acquisition. Take 10 minutes to share your knowledge on trends, best practices, new research findings, or upcoming events.

View the newly launched Talent Matters channel for more information, and download, complete and return this form to Kevin Wennekes ( to take part.

Sharpen Your Axe: Cracking the Code on Innovation

“Innovation is often about provocation,” says Hart Hillman, moderator of the “Sharpen Your AxeTM” series and founder of the Bigwin Group Inc., an executive search and talent management group in Toronto with 21 affiliate offices globally. On September 11, 2015, the Bigwin Group hosted a panel discussion about ‘Innovation and Mobility in FinTech’ at the MaRS Discovery District with top executives from Google Canada, PayPal, Tangerine Bank, TD Bank and the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance

Mobile is getting to a stage of ‘ubiquity,’ notes Alexander Peh, Head of Market Development and Mobile at PayPal Canada. “The barriers to entry from consumers, hardware manufacturers, software manufacturers etc., have dropped down dramatically. Everyone has got them [technological devices, such as cell phones, laptops etc.] and customer expectations are getting higher and higher.”

Sabrina Geremia, Managing Director of Integrated Solutions (Financial Services and Automotive) at Google Canada explains that today there are approximately 5 billion connected devices across the various technological landscapes, and she predicts that by 2020 there will be roughly 25-50 billion connected devices worldwide. “Your cell phone has become the interface for the ‘internet of me’, it has the ability to create searches in seconds, it can determine when you are coming home and turn up the heat for you before you arrive, it can even detect when your husband or wife is in the grocery store so you can remind them to pick up milk”.

Technology startups and financial powerhouses continue to struggle with the age-old debate about what drives innovation and change. The late Steve Jobs suggested that focus groups are problematic because “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. “Ms. Geremia echoes this sentiment, explaining that Google looks to innovate and solve for something that we don’t even know is possible, rather than develop something that is only 10% better than its predecessor. On the other hand, Bob Collymore, CEO of Safari, has argued that “innovation is driven by need, not technology”.

Geremia described a project at Google X in which contact lenses are being designed to monitor the blood sugar levels of those suffering with diabetes. This seamless technology will report data directly to cell phones, which can be set to share the information with healthcare providers. This innovative technology far surpasses existing customer expectations in fact, when asked what advancements they hope to see in the testing process, those questioned reported that they would prefer to test their glucose levels just once a day rather than five times. Case in point; none of those questioned were aware that technology exists that would allow them to avoid the painful process of drawing blood entirely.

Bank noted that, “it’s not good enough to deliver banking services and products in customer-friendly ways, we now have to put the customer in the center and create this engagement where customer centricity is key. We need to join the customer on their journey and not ask them to join us on ours.” For example, TD Bank has developed recognition software that could allow individuals the option to share and customize their home buying experience from their first step onto a building lot to the signing of the final mortgage documents. This project has created value distinction and enhanced the depth of TD Bank’s relationships with their customers.

Organizations such as Google, PayPal, Tangerine and TD Bank recognize that they need to empower their employees in order to attain a higher level of innovation. “The CEO has to walk the walk,” adds John Reid, CEO of CATA. He explains that the top decision makers are perhaps the most important initiators (or inhibitors) of innovation in an organization. Alexander Peh agrees, saying that “amazing technology is still being controlled, guided and defined by humans… innovation is an incredible way to get internal teams to work together. When you can bring together cross-functional teams around something like innovation as a cause, it really brings those creative juices out.” For instance, Nike Inc. made use of cross-functional teams when they launched Nike+ a running shoe which can be connected to a mobile device to act as a digital coach and motivator. The product came to market as a result of a collaborative effort from marketing experts, shoe designers and software engineers.

Rizwan adds that an employee’s day-to-day professional activities may consist of mundane tasks, yet in their personal lives they use ‘super-devices’ with incredible amounts of data and processing power to do creative and amazing things. He explains how TD Bank looks to harness this creativity through ‘Innovation Challenges’ which allot time for employees to apply their creativity and innovation to the financial sectors. In its quest to innovate consumer-friendly products, TD Bank has even created ‘TD Labs’ which brings students with no background in the financial sector into the challenge and adds yet another dimension of creativity.

While technological advancement have increased ease and accessibility, innovation and mobility are not without potential risks, dangers or concerns. Arguably, there are over 37 million Ashley Madison users that question the degree of security and privacy provided by these innovations.

Tangerine Bank has been proactive in its efforts to address concerns like these, travelling the globe in collaboration with other banks to find creative solutions to fight cybercrime. While cybercrime used to be costly and difficult to execute, it can now be perpetrated with a $100 device from a local shopping centre. Ian Cunningham, COO of Tangerine described his most recent trip to Israel where he visited ‘Cyberspark,’ a global hub that looks to mitigate cyber attacks. The centre revealed that one of the largest sources of cybercrime comes from criminal networks that intercept data by replicating authentic reception towers. Fintech companies need to continue to work together to explore and innovate, ensuring that they are leading the charge and staying ahead of those that want to exploit the same technologies.

An innovative idea is only valuable to the extent that it can be turned into something that can be deployed. Through continued exploration of innovation and mobility in FinTech, financial companies can evolve to stay ahead of these attacks. When Thomas Edison was asked how he felt about failing, he reportedly replied, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

Press Release: Bigwin Group hosts “Sharpen Your Axe” on Innovation and Mobility in Fintech


The Bigwin Group Inc., hosted the 4th Session in the “Sharpen Your Axe™” Series on Innovation and Mobility in Fintech
Cracking the Code on Innovation to Attract and Retain Customers

TORONTO, Ontario – September 14, 2015 – Bigwin Group’s founder and CEO, Hart Hillman, moderated a thought provoking panel discussion on ‘Innovation and Mobility in FinTech’ at the MaRS Discovery District, on September 11th, 2015. Participants included over 50 executives from traditional financial institutions, disruptive and powerful technology companies, as well as venture capital firms. These individuals came together alongside a panel of top executives from Google Canada, PayPal, Tangerine Bank, TD Bank, and C.A.T.A. to explore the impact of innovation on technology.

A growing number of financial technology service companies, or as they have come to be known, “FinTech” companies, have entered the market, providing alternatives to consumers by tapping into innovation as an opportunity for growth. Surviving in today’s competitive market requires innovation – not only to respond effectively to present demands, but ultimately in anticipation of the unknown challenges of the future.

Businesses and individuals alike strive towards the innovation challenge, but very few truly stand out. Those that can “think outside the box” apply technological innovation to shape their industries in new and creative ways. Sabrina Geremia, Director of Integrated Solutions and Head of the Finance Group of Google Canada, said that the trend in innovation has moved exponentially more quickly in the past decade than it has in the preceding 100 years.

Rizwan Khalfan, Chief Digital Officer at TD Bank, brings a different approach to cracking the innovation code in the financial sector. In his view, the key to innovation is built on a strong foundation of talent and a winning culture. To that end, employees at TD Bank are given the support along with the freedom and flexibility to explore and create. Another panelist, Alexander Peh, Head of Market Development and Mobile at PayPal Canada, sees innovation as a platform for collaboration. “When you can bring together cross-functional teams around something like innovation as a cause, it really brings those creative juices out.” John Reid, CEO of CATA, contended that the use of external resources fosters innovation, and Ian Cunningham, COO of Tangerine Bank, suggested simply that consumer need provides the fuel – people want to bank when they want, where they want and how they want.

“Innovation is really about provocation,” says Hart Hillman. FinTech companies are reshaping the landscape of the financial industry as consumer demand has called for improvements in the accessibility and efficiency of financial services. In fact, “consumers have seen a surge in ‘FinTech’ developments, from mobile payments and money transfers to crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending sites,” said Hillman. The Bigwin Group is dedicated to sponsoring and promoting innovation and thought leadership through our “Sharpen Your Axe™” series.


The Bigwin Group was created to “re-invent” talent management through creativity and innovation. We offer a wide range of valuable talent management tools to our clients and candidates, and always challenge the status quo. We are not limited to leadership recruitment, offering services that extend to corporate role definition, coaching, strategy, onboarding, and retention. We adhere to three fundamental drivers that underpin everything we do: Purpose, Principles and Promise. The Bigwin Group’s innovation and extraordinary creativity is changing the talent management landscape and positively impacting our clients’ businesses every day.

Laura Palandra
Bigwin Group Talent Management
25 Adelaide St E, Suite 1910
Toronto, ON M5C 3A1
Office: 416-883-2444

CEO Roundtable: Innovation & Discovery


What was the biggest shock of your innovation journey? – Gordon Pitts, The Globe and Mail

“A good business is only as good as the people that are in it. If we want to move forward we have to change our entire behavior platform.”
– John Hebden, Fusion Consulting

“The more change that happens the better you get at it.”
– Peter Aceto, Tangerine Bank

“I try to figure out how to keep people motivated by continuing to find ways to help people grow and challenge them.”
– Tony Lacavera, Globallive

“It involves a lot of story telling, that epic journey where you are going to change the world…people buy into that and it becomes emotional.”
– Michael Serbinis, Kobo

“I like the idea of having guiding principles. I would use this set of behaviours as a competitive platform.”
– Michael Serbini, Kobo

“It is challenging to get the commitment and time from the individuals who you need to make it happen.”
– Jonathan Goodman, Monitor Deloitte

“It’s easy to underestimate how hard it is.”
– Jonathan Goodman, Monitor Deloitte

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
– Jonathan Goodman, Monitor Deloitte

“Innovation is an evolution not a revolution.”
– Robert Boulet, Arrow ECS Canada

“Constantly, look for the change that will bring over time and transform the company.”
– Robert Boulet, Arrow ECS Canada

“The most important thing is understanding each of the stakeholders and what fundamentally motivates them.”
– Andreas Antoniou, El Caballito

“You don’t buy a Ferrari to drive it 200 miles per hour, you buy it to drive it 15 miles per hour.”
– Andreas Antoniou, El Caballito

“I am focused on writing down our mission statement, principles and goals and getting everyone to memorize and embody those things.”
– Andreas Antoniou, El Caballito

“When you make that connection they start thinking and feeling a different way. If the axe swings too far one way you kill entrepreneurism.”
– Larry O’Reilly, IMAX

“The biggest challenge is balancing.”
– Larry O’Reilly, IMAX

“The older generation does not like change, whereas the newer generation is more open to different options and new products. At the end of the day it is all about the trust and the way you treat the people.”
– Anna Galoni, Thordon Bearings Inc.

“Change is always different, but more do-able when there is a unified purpose everyone agrees on.”
– Hart Hillman, The Bigwin Group

“As Simon Sinek says, ‘Great leaders eat last’…people will follow leaders who wear their power lightly and put their teams interest ahead of them’.”
– Hart Hillman, The Bigwin Group

This is the number one position companies need to hire for in a post-COVID world

By: Hart Hillman

At this point the words “new normal” are beyond cliché.

In recent months I’ve heard those words more times than I can count, and I’m sure you have too. I personally dislike using the term to describe the reality of today because it implies a sense of false comfort, suggesting that whatever comes next will be safe, consistent, and impervious to further disruption. In my opinion that which comes after the current crisis, has no permanence either. Instead I believe it will be characterized by regular cosmic shifts of near Coronavirus proportions.

Practices and policies that began as temporary emergency measures are now being implemented on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. Business units, companies, entire industries, in fact the entire way we conducted business up until February seemed utterly doomed by the end of March. The world is being reshaped by physical distancing necessity; the workplace is being reconfigured by the rise of remote work; and businesses of all shapes and sizes have had to make a sudden pivot in order to stay afloat and relevant. The only thing “normal” about this new business environment is its constant disruption.

There are, however, a number of beneficiaries who are thriving at a time when most are struggling. Video conferencing providers, delivery services, logistics companies, technology enablers, remote service providers and companies that operated on a fully remote basis are among the few that will emerge from this tragedy in better position than where they started.

The question that remains is: how do you as an organization ensure that you’re in a position to thrive during the next major disruption? I believe that in order to seize the opportunities of the future you need someone on your staff that is wholly dedicated to considering what that future will look like, and how your organization can best adapt to seize the opportunities it will provide.

Therefore, the most important position your company needs to fill in order to thrive post COVID is an innovation officer.

That position, in my professional opinion as an executive recruiter, requires two distinct types of expertise, and therefore could be further divided into two distinct positions; one focussed on internal operations, and the other focussed on external opportunities.

In just a matter of weeks the way in which human capital is structured, deployed and managed has been completely disrupted. Companies are scrambling to maintain productivity in a remote setting, build policies and procedures to manage a decentralized workforce, maintain a cohesive culture in dramatically different formats and ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of staff during this period of adaptation.

That’s a lot for companies to build from the ground up on short notice, especially in the midst of a crisis, but those who were already thinking about the future were much better positioned to manage the fallout.

“The difference is the last crisis was owned by the CFO; this crisis is really being owned by your CHRO,” explains Erika Van Noort, the Vice President of Candidate and Employee Experience at Softchoice.

Van Noort adds that the current crisis exemplifies why human resources should play a central role in that strategy conversation, and help their organization reimagine their human capital practices.

“This is that time for the human resources groups within organizations to prove just how well they know the business, how well they can support their people, and how well they can lead through unknown times,” she says.

While companies should use this moment to evolve their human resources practices they also need to react and adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace. The difficult reality is that many businesses won’t survive. I believe, however, that many more will grow from the fertile soil that is left in its wake.

Pivoting towards new and previously unimaginable opportunities often requires the utilization of technologies like big data analytics; in which case organizations should strive to find or internally promote an innovation officer with a strong IT background. For others it will require a careful scan of the marketplace and an exploration of new customer, product and service opportunities; in which case they should strive to find or promote from within an innovation officer with a strong revenue and sales background.

Either way, seizing future opportunities requires an executive team member that can offer a fresh perspective, unbiased by company convention and tradition.

“What you need right now is someone to question everything; question your cost structure, question your sales processes, question your manufacturing, question your sourcing, question it all,” explains Sam Duboc, the Chair & CEO of digital mental health platform MindBeacon. “Someone who doesn’t come in with preconceived notions, someone who is not coming in with biases, someone who is not coming in with, ‘this is how we do things,’ is super important for the future.”

Duboc believes that history’s biggest opportunities often emerge from major disruptions, and the current crisis is no exception. I happen to agree.

As disruption becomes the norm it becomes vital for organizations to designate an executive or team to consider future disruptions, and the opportunities they will provide. I believe that comes in two distinct formats: reimagining internal structures and pivoting towards new market opportunities.

Whether that requires your organization to hire for two new positions, a single executive who can manage both responsibilities, or elevating members of your existing team to the c-suite, I believe it is imperative for every company to designate an innovation officer in order to thrive in the “new normal.”

I’ve seen business leaders incorporate a classic Charles Darwin quote in countless presentations about innovation over the years, but the cliché has never rung truer. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Why Companies Fail at Diversity and Inclusion, Despite Significant Investment

By: Hart Hillman

As described in my previous post, I don’t care for your gender diversity hiring statistics, because it is only one small part of offering a gender diverse workforce, and the same is true of broader equity inclusion initiatives.

Historically speaking, efforts to improve workplace diversity have failed to make significant change, despite significant investment, and now we know why. Affirmative action and other initiatives focussed wholly on hiring can be effective in getting people in the door, but they’re all for naught without structures in place to support those employees once they arrive. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many diverse hires you add to your roster if the majority end up leaving soon after.

As with gender diversity, equity inclusion has proven to be a strong indicator of company performance, with more diverse teams consistently seeing better results.

According to a study by McKinsey, diverse executive teams are 35% more likely to report higher than average profits, while diverse boards are 43% more likely to see above average profits. According to the study, every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity amongst the senior executive team leads to a 0.8% increase in earnings.

Furthermore, the ability to draw from diverse perspectives increases an organization’s propensity for creativity and innovation by 20%, while making it 30% better at spotting and avoiding risks, according to a study by Deloitte. Overall, two thirds of the 10,000 business leaders surveyed by Deloitte cited diversity and inclusion as important or very important to the success of their organizations.

In an effort to reap those benefits companies have sunk untold billions into hiring efforts, and yet the needle rarely moves. In an effort to get to the bottom of their lack of progress, some innovative organizations began publicizing not just their diverse hiring numbers, but retention statistics as well, and pretty soon the problem became clear.

One such company, Intel, made a $300 million dollar commitment in 2015 to have a workforce that was fully representative of the diversity of America within five years. That year the company hired 209 African American employees, but according to retention figures published later that year, 201 left. Intel also hired 11 Native American employees in 2015, but by the following year they were further behind then when they started after 19 left. “All this work to hire doesn’t mean a thing if Intel, or any company, can’t convince its newest employees that they are going to feel like they landed in an inclusive workplace,” reported Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman at the time.

Intel was essentially trying to fill a bucket with holes in it, and once the problem became clear the company made plans to patch the leak. In 2016 Intel put a number of initiatives in place to better support diverse employees, and to rally their colleagues into joining the cause.

One such program called Warmline provides employees with a confidential hotline they can call to get career advancement advice or with suggestions on how to improve the overall employee experience. “It has increasingly gained traction as a resource for employees, and as a result has also become a source of insight into creating a more inclusive environment,” reported VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi in 2018. “Since its inception, the Warmline has received more than 20,000 cases with a retention rate of 82 percent.”

As a result of this program and other policies aimed at creating a more inclusive workplace, Intel was able to reach its diversity goal in 2018, two years ahead of schedule.

What Intel and others have since discovered is that diversity hiring is too focussed on numbers and groups, but doesn’t put enough emphasis on supporting the individual, resulting in widespread retention problems.

According to Trevor Wilson, an author and leading voice in the equity and inclusion space, there are five stages in what he calls the “equity continuum.” The first level of motivation for employers is “compliance,” followed by “beyond compliance,” which begins when an organization recognizes the benefits to their internal and public image. Next is the business case, which has now been well established, but still doesn’t meet what he considers the standard for true inclusivity. That designation is achieved in the next phase, “integrated equity,” which moves beyond a focus on the group and towards an emphasis on the individual.

“They value people because of—not in spite of—their differences and have moved towards an environment that is equitable for all,” he writes. “They have internalized diversity and inclusion as core values and view human equity as an essential element of sustainable competitive advantage or organizational effectiveness.”

The final stage is “inclusive and equitable,” which capitalizes on “individual differences to unleash maximum human potential and self actualization.”

As with gender diversity and inclusion, many organizations like to showcase their diverse hiring numbers, but according to Wilson and other experts they’re only in the early phases of creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.

Those who fail to put policies in place designed to support the individual rather than the group are likely to see numbers dwindle quickly. Organizations like Intel that find ways to stop the leaks by supporting their staff and truly internalizing the diversity and inclusion as a core value can truly capitalize on the significant returns that are associated with a diverse workforce.

Until then, companies will continue investing billions into diversity and inclusion initiatives, but won’t have much to show for it.