Best Jobs

Canada’s Top 10 Best CEOs to work for

Not every leader inspires the same level of employee loyalty. Here are the Top 10 CEOs most admired by their workforces

UPDATED! Click here for 2017’s ranking of Canada’s Best Jobs »
TD Bank CEO Bharat Masrani

TD Bank CEO Bharat Masrani. (Portrait by Markian Lozowchuk)

Recently, the company-ratings database Glassdoor released its annual ranking of the Highest Rated CEOs in Canada. These are the 10 leaders who enjoy the highest levels of approval and trust amongst their employees (at least, amongst the self-selected group of Glassdoor respondents):

RankNameApproval ratingCompanyJob Listings by Indeed
1Laurent Potdevin93%Lululemon AthleticaJob Listings at Lululemon Athletica
2Bill McDermott93%SAPJob Listings at SAP
3David Ossip93%CeridianJob Listings at Ceridian
4Donald Guloien90%Manulife FinancialJob Listings at Manulife Financial
5Steve Williams88%SuncorJob Listings at Suncor
6Rich Kruger88%Imperial OilJob Listings at Imperial Oil
7Bharat Masrani88%TD BankJob Listings at TD Bank
8Bill Lennie88%Home Depot CanadaJob Listings at Home Depot Canada
9Pierre Nanterme85%AccentureJob Listings at Accenture
10Howard D. Schultz85%StarbucksJob Listings at Starbucks

Several people here, such as Bill McDermott of SAP or Howard Schultz of Starbucks, are global CEOs whose businesses contain many Canadian employees; others, like Bill Lennie of Home Depot Canada, head up the Canadian branch of a multinational. But in all cases their Canadian workforce appears to strongly back their leadership.

But Glassdoor asks respondents to score only whether they “approve” of their CEO—and approval doesn’t actually tell us much about the specific qualities that set these leaders apart. After all, as Liz Wiseman recently told editor in chief James Cowan in an interview, the things that make us believe in leaders aren’t necessarily things that make them likable:

“My publisher’s reaction to my manuscript was, “Wow, these aren’t cupcakes-and-kisses kinds of leaders. These are really hard-edged leaders.” Not all of the multipliers I studied were people I would consider to be really nice. They weren’t the kind of leaders who would come up and put their arm around me and say, “Oh well, Liz, we just appreciate you.” They were leaders who asked me to do really hard things and then stepped back and let me struggle a little bit. They were demanding and intolerant of mediocrity. And when I looked at how people talked about their multiplier leaders, not all of them were nice people, but all of them were loved. People would say, “Man, I loved working for that guy” or “I loved her.” It’s not because they’re nice. It’s because they give you an opportunity. They invite you into this growth space and bring out your best, and we love the people who bring out our best.”

The ranking notably includes Bharat Masrani, who only took over as CEO of TD Bank in November 2014. The fact that he enjoys such high approvals after less than a year on the job suggests either a honeymoon period, or—given the long transition he oversaw with former CEO Ed Clark—the outcome of long-term efforts to build credibility and trust within the organization. As he told Canadian Business in an interview last year:

We had ample time for the transition. [And] there’s total alignment with respect to the bank’s strategy: what we stand for in our culture, our set of values, our model, what TD’s all about. Total alignment between myself and Ed [Clark, the former CEO] and Frank [McKenna, the deputy chair], and many others in the senior team. That stems from the fact that anything major we’ve done in the bank over the past 12 years or so, I’ve been very much a part of the change. When we got out of the structured products market, I was the chief risk officer. When we headed to the U.S., I was a key part of that. So when you take all that and put it together, I felt I was an equal partner in making the bank what it is now.

Finally, one important quality that sets these leaders apart is their willingness to talk straight about difficult topics, which Starbucks honcho Howard Schultz exmplified this spring—perhaps past the point of prudence—with Starbucks’ #RaceTogether initiative. Though many criticized the stunt’s tone-deaf execution, Carol Toller wrote about the months of difficult but productive internal conversation that preceded the March unveiling of its ill-advised public-facing incarnation. That showed real leadership, she wrote:

If your workforce is already diverse, as Schultz’s is (about 40% of Starbucks baristas are racial minorities), frank conversations about race serve as an organizational thermostat, giving employees an opportunity to express fears and concerns that might otherwise distract them from their work. Here in multicultural Canada, where we pride ourselves on being “colour-blind” and inclusive, incidents like last October’s vandalization of a mosque in Cold Lake, Alta., and a Montreal judge’s recent refusal to hear a woman’s case unless she removed her hijab have left many minority citizens concerned about their personal safety, says Saadia Muzaffar, a marketing director and founder of TechGirls Canada, an advocacy group for gender and racial diversity in tech. “I’d much rather see a company invest in this kind of forum rather than holding a ‘multicultural day,’ because those are a mirage for actual acceptance and celebration—a laughable way to say, ‘You have permission to be a caricature of yourself for one day. Enjoy!’”

Just what makes a good leader is not going to be settled by this ranking—leadership is a journey, not a destination. But these 10 CEOs have earned the trust of their workforce across a variety of fields, using a wide range of qualities. At least until next year’s ranking comes out.