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7 Questions with Rebecca Wellum
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7 Questions with Rebecca Wellum
Name: Rebecca Wellum
Current title: VP Compliance & Diversity
Current organisation: Geotab Inc.
Rebecca spent 18 years growing into her role at a big 3 tech firm where her work through order support and project management led her to becoming the compliance lead for Canada on the environmental and producer responsibility portfolio. In 2014, she pulled on her experience with auditing, and privacy in the environmental compliance world, to a top 3 human capital management firm, where she established the Canadian Compliance function, and delivered on such things as records management, GDPR compliance and other core tenets of auditing and risk management, increasing employee perceptions of ethics at the company by 10%. In 2019, Rebecca moved on to lead the Global Compliance function at Geotab Inc, a leading telematics company where the focus has been on ensuring compliance with all manners of regulations, standards and contractual obligations (up to and including US Government business), but also to establish Audit and Risk functions as well as Diversity & Inclusion for the enterprise.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Advancing the compliance mandate without being perceived as the opposition and dealing with conflicting priorities. Compliance is a function that is an enabler and a good business partner, but is often perceived to be the source of the word "no". It's also hard to press forward when the urgency of compliance isn't equitable to someone else's hair being on fire. Fighting the response "it's been ok so far" is never easy.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Opportunities and success are codependent. You can't have opportunities, if you don't succeed where you are, and you can't succeed without opportunities to get where you want to be. The trouble always is that opportunities don't come right up to you, smack you in the face and push you through their open doors. Opportunities are something you have to cease and in some ways, create for yourself. When I found the role at the human capital management firm, I had been watching job boards passively. Any time an opportunity came up that I thought I was well qualified for and was interested in, I would apply. Viewing every application as an opportunity to learn what was working about my resume, what wasn't; What worked in my interviewing skills, and what didn't. When it turned out in my favor and I made the move, I never stopped passively watching those opportunities on the job boards, and I still do to this day. The higher I get on the ladder, the fewer roles seem to appeal to me, BUT, I never stop watching, and I never stop learning.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I would say I've achieved a good sense of balance, but that's a stretch for anyone these days. I'm awake at 7 and eating breakfast by 7:50. I check my calendar and my messages for anything urgent while I'm eating. After packing up my daughter's lunch and getting her off to school, I head to my desk and get busy working. I always call my mom while things are booting up to check on her, and then it's off to the races. Catching up on emails, video conferences and instant chats are the way of life these days! I try to break for lunch around noon, and grab a bite to eat with my husband who also works from home while we're dealing with Covid. Then it's back to work in my office upstairs for more of the same in the afternoon. I try to fit in either a 15 minute workout during lulls in the day, or a bit of self development learning on linkedin where I can. At 3 in the afternoon, my daughter returns from school and checks in with me (whether I'm on a call or not), and I keep plugging away til 4-5. I'm fairly certain that anyone I work closely with has seen my daughter and could carry on a conversation with her, just from these check ins! Then it's getting dinner ready and running to the barn for my daughter's riding or making sure chores and homework are done before we finally sit down and chill out as a family around 7 or 8. I'm typically crocheting or doing an online puzzle while my husband and I catch up on our favourite shows, and then it lights out about 10-11 to rest up for the next day!
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
That the best leaders are the best at managing difficult conversations. The best leaders are people who have the courage to face their staff, and develop them through difficult times, difficult situations, and difficult behaviors. Those that can't do that, just aren't leading at all.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I honestly have 2. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, and The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick Delisi.
From Dare to Lead, I've learned and I feel honed my skills of leading with openness and trust. I trust others in my team with enough of my "self" and in turn I'm given theirs. I think this has become invaluable to me, and it's how I'm successful in influencing beyond my scope as well. And it's a really unique concept right? Trust others with who you are, so that they know that they can trust you as a leader with who they are. The key after all of this is follow through. Maintaining confidence, doing the right thing even when it's hard, removing their roadblocks, advocating for them and shining their spotlights for recognition, to finally having difficult conversations...all this builds and maintains a healthy employee / employer relationship that lasts and grows.
From the Effortless Experience, I have been able to reinforce my view of servant leadership, but also, in determining how I strategically embed compliance into other functional processes. Where there are default "resource constraint" objections to work, my team will build it, hone it, and then hand it back. Making things easy for your customer, regardless of whether that customer is internal or external is key. And leadership is about being courageous enough to have the tough discussions when it's time to hand things back to the business. Not to mention that everyone at an organization regardless of how large or small, should ultimately have the end user or end customer at the forefront of every decision. Otherwise, why is everyone doing what they're doing?
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Slowly, steadily, strategically, and realistically. I've been lucky to bring on fantastic people into my team, and I inherited some absolute gems. I hire strategic thinkers, process engineers, project managers and people who are both doers and leaders. I've found that leaders who can't also rarely last long in my organization. Leadership in itself isn't about doing, but if you're a servant leader like me, you know that sometimes you're going to have to pitch in and swing a few hits to save the team and let them keep focusing on the priorities you've already delegated.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
In truth, I live and work each day with meaning and purpose, and so narrowing it down to one individual story isn't easy. I first thought about the time when bringing someone onto my team who had taken a pay decrease to join, did so with some degree of excitement, calling it the "boss premium". I felt honored and quite humbled by it, knowing that I had to bring my "A" game every single day to be sure I kept earning that honor.
But even more powerful than that though, was seeing a year's worth of work come to fruition and be recognized by a peer who is not typically free with their praise. We spent a year, drafting and revising and socializing the new Global Code of Conduct. The person I put on the job was facing the uphill climb on trying to reconcile obligations from the Federal Acquisition Regulation AND all of our regional employee handbooks and job aids to ensure that the new Global Code was free from conflicts with other policies and that all references back to it would be clean. It was a remarkably heavy lift at the end of the year, fraught with various roadblocks related to efficient document handling and revision management workflows, and addressing accountability amidst some moments of territorialism. At the end of the job, the document was rolled out to the globe, and one executive wrote immediately with "Wow. Great Job Team." Of all the people I expected to hear from, he was not the one from whom I anticipated any congratulations or acknowledgements. To my team and I, this became a hinge worthy moment. Without wanting to be too sappy about it, I felt in that moment like we had just locked in the first bolts of Compliance's marker within the company.