Exclusive: HRM talks to Tangerine’s CEO

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For the better part of a decade, Peter Aceto has been both the president and CEO of Tangerine Bank – in that time, he’s led the forward-thinking financial institution through an acquisition and coordinated a major rebrand less than 18 months later.

But the man dubbed “the social media CEO” has a somewhat controversial approach – constantly engaging on Twitter, Aceto is keen to connect directly with customers and employees and has even eschewed having his own office.

Here, Aceto told HRM about the benefits of social media, staying connected to your workforce, and showing doubters that humanity really does exist in the C-suite.

HRM: You’ve been referred to as “the social media CEO” – how important do you think it is for leaders to fully engage with social media?

PA: I will tell you in my case, I would rather engage in a Twitter conversation with a single customer than see our company attempt to attract the attention of millions in a coveted Superbowl commercial.  Why? Because having people discuss your brand directly with you, actually connecting one-on-one, is far more valuable – not to mention far cheaper! Social media allows me to get a grasp on the true reality of our business without any filters, and that ought to be viewed as a huge benefit by leaders.

But this isn’t about social media. It is less about media and more about understanding what it means to lead in the social age – less to do with campaigning and more to do with engaging. It’s about leading differently with openess and accessibity and certainly transparency.

HRM: What impact does this have on organizations and their employees?

PA: It builds trust and trust can be a true competitive advanatage particularly as it solifdifies the strength of a corpoate culture. If we engage employees, customers and prospective customers in meaningful dialogue about their lives, challenges, interests and concerns, we can build a community of trust, loyalty and – possibly over time – help them become advocates and champions for the brand.

HRM: What do those who abscond from social media risk missing out on?

PA: I can see how scary social media would be for most. But, this is the future. And it is certainly the better way. Better for your business, your employees, your customers and guess what? It is far better for your shareholders as well. We have a choice to passively listen to what employees and customers think about us and our businesses. Or we can choose to be a part of the conversation. We can, by choice, help inform, educate and teach people about what we do, what the business stands for and how we plan to change the lives of employees and customers in a positive way.

HRM: CEOs and other C-suite executives can often intimidate front-line employees – is this something business leaders should be looking to change? If so, why – and how – should they go about it?

PA: Absolutely. Everything that matters in a business is related to the management of its people. So why is it, that the more senior we grow in our careers, we move further away from what happens on the front lines? For years, CEOs have been isolated in steel-and-glass towers, behind giant wooden desks and thick opaque doors. The fact is that CEOs, leaders and the rest of the people in an organization are the same. The challenge today is proving that humanity exists at the top, that you are accessible, that you listen, and that you want to hear from them directly. There can’t be enough clarity or repetition around this message. Not when we’ve been trained for years to believe otherwise.

HRM:  How would you define your leadership style?

PA: Open and accessible, both with our employees and clients. I do not have an office. I sit at an open desk with people and departments all around me. No walls, doors or barriers. Anyone can drop by and chat. I connect directly with clients on my personal Twitter account, Tangerine’s Facebook page, via direct email and on the phones at times. It gives me great joy as CEO to be able to fix an issue a client is experiencing with us.

HRM: What’s the best advice you could offer other aspiring leaders?

PA: To remember that there is a better way to do business, one that puts humanity at the forefront of success, both for employees and clients. And that if you give your employees autonomy and the room to breathe, that they’ll do better for you, the business and ultimately your clients. Being good to your own people is good business.
 
Peter Aceto will be hosting a keynote presentation at the upcoming HR Leaders Summit – the unorthodox CEO will share his “people-first” leadership strategies that have helped secure Tangerine a spot as one of Canada’s most popular banks and most popular workplaces.

To find out more about the HR Leaders Summit, or to register for the event, click here.
 

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