Power of the People | Trafalgar Castle School
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February 09, 2024

Power of the People

Melissa Nowakowski

For the CFO of CIBC Mellon, people are a common thread woven through his success.

 

The people with whom we surround ourselves can have a huge impact on our lives. People have the power to motivate, empower, inspire and influence and are the lifeblood of many successful businesses. This sentiment rings true for Brian Lee, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for CIBC Mellon.

With a career in finance that spans 30 years and as the CFO at CIBC Mellon, Lee knows first-hand the power people can have in being a driving force for success. CIBC Mellon is a joint venture between the Bank of New York Mellon in the US and CIBC here in Canada that provides asset servicing support to institutional clients, including banks, insurance companies, asset managers, asset owners, pension funds and more. As CFO, Lee is responsible for all financial matters, like preparing the company’s financial reports and annual budget, in addition to his treasury function, which includes managing CIBC Mellon’s investment portfolio and liquidity profile.

Lee’s path to a career in finance began in high school. Though Lee had initially set his sights on becoming a doctor when he was younger, it was his high school accounting teacher who opened his eyes to a different career path.

“My accounting teacher talked about finance as a career and how it is the backbone to many things and different things you can do later in your career.” Lee explains, “He talked about the benefits of a professional accounting degree, what was involved and the options that a degree in accounting or finance provides you.”

That was the beginning of a long line of people that would intersect with Lee’s career path. Following high school, Lee obtained his Master of Accounting and CPA Designation, and throughout his career, Lee has been fortunate to have many mentors.

“Having a mentor is important, especially when developing your career.” Lee says, “You’re going to come across points in your career when you’re struggling with an issue, and it’s always nice to have someone independent and objective that you don’t directly report to. Someone who can be a sounding board and provide advice to help you overcome some of the struggles you may come across in your career.”

Lee’s career includes more than 22 years with CIBC in many high-profile roles like SVP Finance Operations, Global Chief Audit Executive, CFO of the Caribbean operations for CIBC and his current role as CFO for CIBC Mellon. Looking back, Lee says that while having a professional accounting designation got him his start in his career, those mentors and the people he works with have been a big part of his success.

“Through the years, what I’ve found critically important, at least in my career, is the people you work with.” Lee states, “The ability to work with strong teams and good people you can lean on and trust. That’s really what’s been critical to my success…it’s less about the degree you’ve obtained and more about the teams you’ve developed throughout the years.”

This is evident in CIBC Mellon’s success during today’s challenging economic environment. Lee explains that 2023 brought a lot of pressure for financial institutions to manage costs while simultaneously providing exceptional service to their clients. Despite CIBC Mellon trying to tightly manage costs, its team continued to provide outstanding client support. Because of that support delivered by a committed team, CIBC Mellon was named the World’s Best Sub-Custodian by Global Finance Magazine for the second year in a row.

“For me, being recognized as the leader in that space further reinforced that I joined a great team with great people, great leadership and a great culture at CIBC Mellon.” notes Lee, “It goes back to people. People are the most important asset that we have on our balance sheet. I’ve been fortunate to work with many incredible people throughout my career.”

Today, the power of great people continues with Lee’s daughters, who attend Trafalgar Castle School. Lee says the school’s warm, welcoming and supportive environment and exceptional academics “has been an amazing experience for my daughters, not just in terms of academics but the whole package in terms of what they have to offer regarding wellbeing and the quality of education.” Lee takes comfort in knowing that just as he is surrounded by a great team, his daughters are as well. That inspired him to join Trafalgar’s Board of Directors in 2022, where he leads the finance committee.

Given Lee’s firm belief in the power of people, it makes sense that Trafalgar’s Board of Directors was something he gravitated to. You only have to look at the Board’s composition —a highly curated group of alumnae, current and former parents and professionals — to know that the School has an extraordinary team behind it. That team includes leaders spanning multiple industries: from an award-winning journalist, a marketing expert and several lawyers (one of whom appeared in front of the Supreme Court of Canada) to experts in Admissions and post-secondary schools, one of Ontario’s top doctors, a Canadian leader in data analytics and a former Vice Chair of one of the largest global consulting firms in Canada, among others.

Karen Gordon, the Chair of the Board, has worked tirelessly to assemble what is, in my mind, a world-class, very engaged Board of Directors who all have the school’s best interest at play. This is just one way I can give back to the School my girls go to.” Lee says.

When asked what would be his biggest piece of advice for high school students, Lee had this to say: “I know it’s stressful trying to choose what you want to do for the rest of your life and what your career path will be but don’t get too hung up on picking an exact career because chances are that will likely change for you over time. And once you settle on a career, don’t make the amount of money you earn or the title you will have the number one priority. What’s more important is the type of company that you’re working for. Inevitably, many people spend more hours with their work colleagues than they will with their friends and family. It’s more important who you work for and who you work with day in and day out than your title and the amount of money you earn. Make that an important part of your career decision.”

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