When longtime banking executive Linda Hohol was appointed president of the TSX Venture Exchange in April of 2002, many in the investment community were asking the same question.
Linda who? No more.
Since taking charge of the TSX Venture soon after it was acquired by the TSX Group, the Calgarian has not only solved her own perceived identity crisis with her promotional and marketing strengths, but also that of a junior stock exchange that was in dire need of a facelift.
Hohol reports that business is brisk on the TSXV. In the first half of this year, public companies raised $2.3 billion on the exchange, which nearly matched the total for all of last year.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|Linda Hohol has raised the profile of the TSX Venture Exchange dramatically in her two years as president of the organization.|
More importantly, with Hohol at the helm, the Venture’s profile has been raised considerably.
1. How did you get started in the investment business? “I started out as a teller at CIBC, but I wasn’t intending to make a career of banking. I wanted to get a master’s degree in psychology and become a psychologist. I stayed with CIBC for 26 years and in the course of those years, I became more and more interested in the wealth-management side of the business.”
2. Did you regret not pursuing a career as a psychologist? “Well, I think there’s some amateur psychology that goes into being successful in banking and in my current job. No, I’ve never regretted it.”
3. How do you reflect on your career with CIBC? “Well, first of all, it was a great time to start a career with the bank, both as a woman and with the opportunity in the early years to be a generalist. It would be unusual today to start with the bank and have such broad opportunities because they tend to string you into specific areas. It was terrific having the opportunity to be a general manager and then a senior vice-president and finally the executive vice-president of the wealth management group. I would say that experience both in commercial lending and in wealth management really prepared me well for this job with the TSX Venture.”
4. To what do you attribute your success in climbing the corporate ladder at CIBC? “I would have to attribute a lot of my success to good people skills, to hard work and to a real focus on customers. It’s important to have an understanding that customers are what any business is really all about.”
5. Why did you leave CIBC in 1999 after 26 years? “I really loved Calgary, and it was really home for both me and my family. If I was to go any further with CIBC, I would have had to move to Toronto. Before I left CIBC, I was living in Calgary and commuting to Toronto to work Monday to Friday.
I also left because I wanted to get reacquainted with my family.”
6. Why did you choose to take the job as president of the TSX Venture Exchange? “When I got a call from the search firm that was doing the search on behalf of the TSX Group, I took a look at the job profile and I thought that with my experience and with the job being in Calgary, the opportunity to build a truly national exchange looked pretty exciting. An opportunity like that doesn’t come along every day.”
7. Describe your style of leadership? “I like to build teams where people feel like they are part of the team, have a voice and make a contribution. I really emphasize the client very much.”
8. What were your major challenges on assuming the role as head of the Venture? “After the acquisition of the junior exchange by the TSX in the summer of 2001, there was a lot of team- building to do, a lot of work building a common culture, creating a brand awareness in cities across Canada with the new name of TSX Venture Exchange, and calming the waters internally and externally. My main focus was on the employees, on brand awareness, and convincing people that we were here to stay and we were going to do a great job.”
9. Are you satisfied with the inroads you’ve made in those areas? “I’m very satisfied. I think that business is great. Financings this year for the first six months are almost exactly what they were for the full year last year, and liquidity is great.”
10. Are you frustrated by the lack of media attention the TSX Venture gets? “Well, it depends on what kind of media attention it is. I’m very happy when we’re not making headlines in the newspapers because of scandals.
We do get media attention from time to time. I could always use a little more. I think the junior capital markets are very important to Canada. I think this exchange is very important to Canada and the economy, and I wish the media would pay a little more attention to that. We do get reasonable media coverage from time to time.”
11. Do you think the shoddy reputation of the old Vancouver Stock Exchange still deters a lot of people from investing in the Venture? “I don’t believe that’s the case any more. I think we’ve put Vancouver (Stock Exchange) behind us. I would say to any investor that these are junior companies and in many cases they’re startups, so of course it’s high risk. There isn’t a track record. But we remove what I call the regulatory risk. There are standards you have to meet to list with us. We do all the checks and the due diligence on the quality of management and the board. There are financial tests (companies) have to meet. So I think we’ve put that reputation behind us. But I don’t pretend that there is no risk. Investors should be doing their own due diligence, particularly on management teams.”
12. What can the TSX Venture do to prevent scandals such as the one in recent years involving VisuaLabs? “I think we just need to keep doing what we are doing. With every new listing, there are standards that need to be met. Having said that, even with the best and the biggest companies, if an employee is crooked and out to get you, there are ways around the rules. Could I promise there would never be another VisuaLabs? I couldn’t. But I think we do a pretty good job, or the best that we can do, in terms of preventing that.”
13. What can be done in terms of attracting new investors to the TSX Venture in the next few years? “I’d like to see us continue to do more work on brand awareness in Central and Eastern Canada. That’s because the notion of raising money in the public capital markets for companies this small in, say, Ontario and Quebec, hasn’t been as prevalent. The roots of the junior exchange are in Western Canada, where mining companies, and oil and gas companies in particular have become used to going to the exchange to raise capital. That awareness is building in Central and Eastern Canada, but there’s still some work to do. In the next five years, I’d like to see a balance of where our listings business is coming from that reflects the makeup of Canada’s geography. That would mean significantly more business from Central and Eastern Canada. New listings are increasingly coming from Quebec and Ontario. I think in the first quarter of this year, about 45 per cent of our new listings came from Ontario and Quebec.
14. What’s your vision for the TSX Venture Exchange? My vision is to firmly entrench the Venture Exchange in the minds of the Canadian market players and investors, and to have a brand that is linked with integrity and with playing a strong role in building Canada’s economy.”
15. To what do you attribute the Venture’s success in raising venture capital? “Let’s face it – investor confidence came back in the past year and a half. I think there is more confidence in the exchange itself. We have done a lot of work in the trenches, getting out there, putting our face in front of the right audiences, trying to get some press, literally marching from city to city and doing workshops with companies that may want to go public. The current awareness campaign is certainly helping. The promotional aspect is important. I’m the face of the company. It’s what I have to do, it’s what I get paid to do and it’s incredibly important.”
16. Are you concerned about how a major slump in commodity prices, such as gold and oil, would impact the Venture? “The resource sector is still pretty important, but we are starting to increase our sectoral diversity. We are seeing more listings from other sectors such as technology, biotechnology, manufacturing and even the financial sector, to an extent. Would it hurt as much as it would have five years ago? No, it wouldn’t. We are starting to see that diversity strengthen us and it would help us weather any kind of downturn in one resource sector.”
17. What do you think about when you see high-profile business tycoons such as Martha Stewart in handcuffs? “I think seeing CEOs in handcuffs, if they deserve it, is a pretty good deterrent to any other CEOs who may have been heading in that direction. I don’t have any sympathy for them.
I think that as a CEO of a large company like that (Martha Stewart Living), you have to set the standard, you have to create the culture and you have to be the role model. I don’t have any sympathy for a CEO who wanders off the beaten path.”
18. Would you favour a single securities regulator for Canada as opposed to the current setup of several regional regulators? “I personally support a single regulator, assuming that single regulator is able to preserve the good things about what currently exists. That means being able to accommodate regional and sectoral needs across Canada. If a single regulator could streamline what needs to be streamlined and extract what’s good about the way things are today, that in my mind would be the perfect world. I think it needs political will for it to happen, and not just at the federal level, but also at the provincial level.
I’d also like to see more publicly listed companies have a stronger voice on this issue.”
19. How long do you wish to remain president of the Venture Exchange? “I’d like to stay as long as they’ll have me, but I don’t want to work until I’m 90. I’m really enjoying it, even with all the travel. It’s a very exciting place to be and a very exciting time to be here.”
20. What’s your most important life goal? “It’s to have that balance in life that for a few years ago I didn’t have in terms of my family and friends and things I like to do. I don’t think anyone on their deathbed should be saying, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”
IN PROFILE: Linda Hohol
* Title: President, TSX Venture Exchange.
* Born/Raised/Age: Nigeria/Edmonton/52.
* Education: Kellogg Business School (Evanston, Ill.), graduate, executive development program.
* Family: Husband Milt Hohol, two children.
* Home: Calgary.
* Career: Prior to being appointed president of the TSX Venture in April of 2002, Hohol spent 26 years with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) through 1999 when she was executive vice-president of wealth management.
* Moonlighting: Hohol is a director of the Calgary Airport Authority, co-chair of the SAIT Capital Campaign, a director of ATB Financial and a director of the Canadian Olympic Development Association. She is also a fellow of the Institute of Canadian Bankers.
* Passions: Mountains, golf, skiing, boating.
THE COMPANY: TSX Venture Exchange
* Profile: The Venture is Canada's venture capital marketplace, providing emerging companies with access to capital and providing investors with a venture investment market. It is owned by the TSX Group, a publicly traded company that operates the Toronto Stock Exchange, TSX Markets and TSX DataBank.
* Head Office: 10th Floor, 300 5th Ave. S.W., Calgary, AB, T2P 3C4; 1-800-206-7242, 403-218-2800, Fax 237-0450.
* Vancouver Office: Phone/Fax (604) 689-3334/688-6051.
(Gyle Konotopetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)