Christopher Grnak isn’t one to sit around waiting for things to happen. So when he was lured away from his executive post at CIBC to financial-services company National Money Mart, he immediately went to work helping the company reach its aggressive growth targets. In his first three years, Money Mart not only closed six acquisitions but also launched four new products. Here, Grnak speaks to Advantage about his career in wealth management, his roles at Money Mart, and his passion for hockey.
Advantage: In addition to studying economics in university, you also minored in psychology—why is that?
Christopher Grnak: I did it simply out of curiosity and self-fulfillment. I took the very first course with a professor named Barney Gilmore. I found it riveting, so I continued to attend courses that helped me understand the human psyche a little bit.
Do any of those philosophies carry over into your current work?
It’s the people that really make a business tick, so when somebody does or says something, I feel like I have a bit of an edge. It’s not as if I’m assessing people for abnormal behaviour; its just understanding how people behave and their underlying motivations.
At CIBC, you left behind a fund-raising hockey tournament as part of your legacy. What’s the story behind it?
While at CIBC, I started and chaired the CIBC Hockey Tournament in support of the United Way. We recruited executives as team managers from each line of business. In our first year, we raised about $45,000. In the year I left, we generated around $150,000. Now, over $1 million was raised in 2013 alone. This event has not only raised money for a good cause but also brought teams from multiple strategic business units at the bank together to score a common goal.
So why leave the bank to join Money Mart?
I enjoyed 15 years at CIBC, travelling the world to many wealth-management destinations, growing both personally and professionally. However, I felt I wanted to expand my experience with another company to explore more expansive roles and other corporate cultures. So when I received a call from a headhunter describing the opportunity, I jumped on it. Money Mart has aggressive growth targets, offers a diverse number of products and services, has a diverse geography, and offers best-in-class customer service. We are a global financial-services provider with about 1,600 locations in 10 countries. Our company focuses its priorities on identifying and serving the needs of its customers in a respectful and socially responsible manner. This has allowed us to drive brand recognition to 95 percent of all Canadians and achieve a 93 percent satisfaction rate amongst our customers—ratings any business would envy.
Earns his BA in commerce, economics, and psychology at the University of Toronto
Begins articling at Arthur Andersen & Co., eventually becoming senior manager of its operational consulting arm
Earns his CA designation from the Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants
Moves to Ryder Travel as its chief financial officer and operating officer of its leisure operations
Becomes director and head of internal audit and corporate security at CIBC Mellon Global Securities Services and Trust Companies
Is promoted to senior director and head of internal audit and corporate security at CIBC
Is promoted to VP of finance at CIBC
Becomes the managing director of CIBC
Joins National Money Mart in March as its VP of corporate development and finance
Becomes VP of innovation and initiatives in North America for DFC Global Corp., of which National Money Mart is a subsidiary
What is the most challenging part of your role?
Identifying, prioritizing, and implementing innovative strategies to differentiate us from the competition. To do so, we research customer needs and global trends, both within and outside of our financial-service industry. We then test these initiatives in pilots to further refine best practices. Comparative ROI and other criteria such as core competencies and customer needs are also carefully considered. The initiatives that provide the biggest bang often require the most significant work effort and resources, while speed to market is essential, as the market changes so quickly.
What sets your role apart from all the ones before it?
I have enjoyed all of my roles and the teams I’ve worked with, but what I enjoy the most about my current role is the breadth of accountability. My current role is wide-encompassing and includes everything from innovation and product development, M&A, contract negotiations, and people management to financial analysis, planning, and reporting.
Our industry is continuously evolving with new competition, products, and regulation. It is extremely complex and therefore creates challenges that motivate me. As a finance and innovation leader, I am at the epicentre of all business opportunities and changes. The more the world changes, the more opportunities are created and the more rewarding I find my role. Recently, I was promoted to vice president of innovation and initiatives, accountable for our “Growth thru Innovation” strategy.
Why do you think you are successful?
I have yet to turn down an opportunity to try something new, particularly if it is outside of my wheelhouse. It helps you evolve. If someone has the confidence in you to offer an opportunity that involves risk, take it. The learning curve, albeit a roller coaster at times, is a fun ride. But also having a strong work ethic, learning agility, and the ability to simplify complex problems has been very helpful in demonstrating value. As well, the leveraging of the strength of my team cannot be overstated.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“There is always more toothpaste in the tube.” You always have something left in you to give. That philosophy applies to balancing expanding corporate responsibilities with family life—and social responsibility through charity with personal finances.
Looking toward the future, what goals are driving your work?
Ultimately, my goal is to be fully accountable for all aspects of a company’s success as the overall business head. But the journey is the destination. I continue to acquire the multiple disciplines required to fully lead a business inclusive of all functions. While I remain results-oriented, it’s all about establishing as many trusting and enduring relationships in that journey as possible. What I take most pride in is that, through the pursuit of our goals, I’ve established great friendships. That makes me a better person because you become wealthier with more friends.