September 30, 2020
Q&A with Cheesan Chew, our Chief Operating Officer
Cheesan Chew was recently named to the CardLinx Association Top 20 Women in Digital Commerce for 2020. As Chief Operating Officer, she is focused on making the RBC Ventures vision a reality by articulating and driving our strategic roadmap, enabling the launch and growth of new ventures into market and spearheading our culture of innovation. She leads multi-dimensional teams across Ventures operations, analytics, marketing, people experience and portfolio SWATs. Cheesan always encourages the RBC Ventures team to innovate, re-evaluate and go beyond banking to create products and services that solve problems and make lives better.
We sat down with Cheesan to get her perspectives on inspiring leaders, career advice and innovation trends.
Success comes from lot of hard work, a bit of luck, and being in the right place at the right time. I gained a lot of experience early on in my career working in fields traditionally dominated by men: on Bay St. in the derivatives business, as a developer during the first dot com boom and as a founder and leader in innovation / management consulting. But I was fortunate along the way to have both models of amazing women blazing trails and supportive leaders and partners who helped to nurture and give me space to develop my own leadership style.
When you start out, it’s natural to take feedback personally and it can impact how you approach work and colleagues. Over time though, you learn that every role is a part of a system, and that sometimes the system is at play, not you. So, step outside of yourself to see the bigger picture. Understand the things within and out of your control. At the same time own your actions and effort and ….. stay humble.
I draw inspiration from so many places. I’m fortunate to have built a network of people I trust and whose opinions I value deeply from all industries and careers. This takes time as it needs to be authentic. We push each other intellectually and professionally. I also love reading autobiographies of strong leaders.
Personally, my Mum and Dad. They came to Canada when I was a year old with very little and worked so hard. While I didn’t always understand it growing up, looking back, a big part of my work ethic and drive comes from seeing them struggle and make something from nothing. Professionally, the list is too long. I’ve had the fortune of working with some pretty amazing colleagues. Two notable public inspirations: 1) the Notorious RBG, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. A leader who was brilliant, true to herself and who has been integral in the fight for gender equity and rights. 2) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a powerhouse who came out of nowhere to unseat an incumbent. She’s both genuine and hard-hitting. Both women are breaking ceilings of all kinds!
The pandemic is a great accelerator and amplifier. It’s exposed both our strengths and our weaknesses as a society. Based on the strategic foresight work that a small swat team at Ventures undertook a couple months into the pandemic, major drivers impacting the future of digital commerce include:
Location agnostic (work / life / play). It’s clear with technology that we have the ability to work from anywhere for a good portion of the workforce. People are moving towards making decisions on where they live, not based on proximity to an office, but what best suits their lifestyle. The magnitude of migration will have lasting implications from city planning to commerce – both IRL (in real life) and digital.
Another driver we discussed at length is the notion of long tail digital normalization. We are already a highly digital society, but the pandemic has accelerated adoption by the long tail of people and of services (small businesses pivoting online, real estate deals done virtually, new banking services coming online, etc.). We’ll continue to see more happening digitally, with e-commerce at the forefront.
We are doing some pretty amazing things in this country. While we are often perceived to be more conservative, we have some pretty amazing wins – from our AI hubs and companies, to the wealth of accelerators and incubators to Canadian start-ups making waves globally – we have a lot to be proud of.
Hmm the first word that comes to mind is… Perspectives. Don’t hold me to it though :)
I love documentaries and have been making my way through the Netflix catalogue. Notables: 13th (a must see), Knock Down the House (AOC is amazing!), Abstract – The Art of Design, and the entire Chef’s Table series.