RBC International Women’s Day 2013 – Career Snapshots

Zeenat Sidi

Zeenat Sidi

Senior Vice President, Risk Operations
Canadian Banking, Operations, P&CB


How did you get to be where you are today? Was there a particular person or moment that influenced you?

I joined RBC in the US as part of the internet bank we had launched in Atlanta in 1999. When we decided to step out of that business, I had started to look for jobs elsewhere, until Graham MacLachlan convinced me to stay and join his team at RBC Centura in North Carolina. He sponsored my executive MBA while I was there, and subsequently supported me for a larger role in Toronto a few years later. He was very persistent and creative in finding a way for me to stay with the organization, so I owe where I am today, in large part, to him.

If you were talking to someone who’s never worked in your RBC business group, how would you describe what you do and what you like best about your job?

I work with a group of very talented and dedicated individuals whose focus is to protect RBC’s assets by executing on our risk strategies, and being a trusted advisor to our sales, business and risk management partners. The Risk Operations team comprises Credit Adjudication, Commercial Advisory Group, Collections, Fraud Management, and Operational Risk. As I travel across the country to meet with members of the team, I continue to be impressed with the dedication and resiliency of our teams in the face of constant change, and how, amidst all the changes, they serve our partners and clients, with passion, at key moments of truth in their lives. That, along with the opportunity to drive a “Simpler Faster Better” vision within our operations teams, is what I love best about my job.

What’s been the greatest challenge of your career to date and how did you deal with it?

There are many experiences that helped shape my career, and provided me with some great learning, both personally and professionally. One of the more recent ones was taking on a completely different role than anything I had previously done, in a new area for me – Operations. In my previous roles in Risk Management as well as the Business, I had significant interactions with Operations, but had never worked within an operations environment. I spent a lot of time asking questions, understanding from experts on the team, and developing a whole new network. I will always look back at this “disruptive” career opportunity as one of the most significant ones in my professional life.

What advice would you give a younger woman who is at the start of her career?

The advice would apply equally to men and women. Early in your career, focus on getting the right breadth of experiences and learning that will provide a strong foundation for future roles; build a strong network and seek mentors who will be generous with sharing their successes and failures; don’t set barriers for yourself (or allow others to); and finally, create an authentic picture of yourself by understanding what you are good at, and where you draw your passion.

If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?

I would have likely become an architect. I started my university years majoring in architecture (as I had a love for art and math), and while I was doing very well with it, I realized two years into it that it was more a passion than something I wanted to acquire formal education in. So, much to my family’s surprise, I switched majors in my third year of university, and that started a series of events that led me to banking and financial services.

Aside from spending time with family and friends, what’s your favourite thing to do when you have time to yourself?

I am a voracious reader, and in the little spare time that I find, I try to catch up on my reading. I enjoy reading good science fiction novels, architectural digests (given my passion), as well as the Harvard Business Review.

Who has been the most inspiring woman in your own life and why?

I draw my greatest inspiration from my mother. As a stay-at-home wife and mother of three children, her goal in life was to ensure that her children had the best opportunities for education. She sacrificed everything she had built to immigrate to a new country just to ensure that her children would succeed in pursuing higher education and the careers of their choice, and despite tremendous trials, remained strong and persistent in achieving those goals.

Finally, any comment, words of advice or quote you live your life by and would like to share?

One of the quotes I heard a few years ago that really resonated with me was by Judy Elder, a Microsoft Canada executive who was a dynamic visionary and a respected Canadian business leader who urged women to be proud of their ambition, to reject barriers, and to simply make stuff happen: “If you acknowledge the importance and power of your ambition, recognize that it is there to drive you to greater achievements and sustain you through the challenges. And if you couple it with competence, hard work and the morality you learned at your mother’s knee, you can defeat…the doubts that we all have about our capacity to lead.”