“Each day is truly a gift.” — Lisa Lisson: President of FedEx Express Canada

Published by Speaking of Business Podcast on

Transcript

Goldy Hyder:
Welcome to Speaking of Business, I’m Goldy Hyder of The Business Council of Canada. Over the past few months we’ve heard from many business leaders as they’ve responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Guests on this podcast have told us how they’ve overcome unique challenges like keeping employees safe from infection, adapting to a work from home model and finding new ways to deliver essential services. We’ve heard about the many ways corporate Canada has supported communities through this crisis, from retooling factories in order to manufacture medical equipment, to delivering personal protective gear to hospitals, to donating time and money to local charities. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how we can work together to overcome adversity.

Goldy Hyder:
Today in our final podcast of the season we’re continuing on the theme of leadership and resilience, but this time the story is much more personal. Ten years ago, Lisa Lisson was named President of Federal Express Canada, the first woman and the first Canadian to head the company. She had worked her way from the ground floor to the corner office, but just as her career was catching fire she suffered a devastating personal loss that would have frankly stopped many people in their tracks. Instead, Lisa channeled her grief into an inspiring memoir and has gone on to help countless others deal with life’s challenges.

Goldy Hyder:
I spoke with Lisa earlier this year before COVID-19 took hold in Canada, but as you’ll hear in today’s conversation, one of the hallmarks of true leadership is the ability to overcome setbacks and that’s the lesson that is even more relevant today than ever. I’m so grateful to Lisa for sharing her powerful story, here’s our conversation. Lisa, thanks for doing this, it’s so great to see you.

Lisa Lisson:
Thanks for having me. I think it’s wonderful that you take the time to do this and share the stories from CEOs and how they’ve been able to get to where they are. I think it helps people tremendously, so it’s wonderful.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, we appreciate that feedback. I mean, ultimately we’re here because we want to shed some light on the life of a CEO and the journey of a CEO. So let’s start with your story because when it comes to interesting stories, wow, I don’t even know where to begin. Tell me a little bit and I know we’ll unpack this, about who you are.

Lisa Lisson:
Sure. So I am Canadian, because I am the President of FedEx kind of a lot of people think oh, is she American? But I am Canadian and I was –

Goldy Hyder:
You’re the first Canadian president at FedEx.

Lisa Lisson:
That is true. I’m the first Canadian president of FedEx and in fact I was actually… we carve FedEx like the world into six regions and I was actually the first female to ever run a division of FedEx worldwide. So something –

Goldy Hyder:
Congratulations.

Lisa Lisson:
Thank you very much, something I’m very proud of.

Goldy Hyder:
Trailblazer.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes, but I was born in Brantford, Ontario and moved to Burlington when I was five. I still live in Burlington and I live very close to my parents, and then I went to the University of Guelph and got a degree in marketing and when I graduated I was very, very fortunate to get this job at FedEx, which actually will be 28 years that I’ve been with FedEx this year, and I started out entry-level.

Goldy Hyder:
Tell the listener about how you started off at the entry level because when it comes to cute ideas and perseverance, this is a good one.

Lisa Lisson:
Oh, absolutely will. So when I graduated, because I have a degree in marketing, I learned a lot about how important the company culture is and in fact, the culture is even more important, they say, than the strategy. A lot of companies –

Goldy Hyder:
[inaudible 00:03:36].

Lisa Lisson:
Yeah, a lot of companies when they fail it’s not necessarily because the strategy wasn’t sound, but they didn’t nurture and enhance the culture. So I actually spent six months, Goldy, when I graduated really researching companies and really want to make sure I picked one with a good culture and I came across the story of FedEx and it really intrigued me for a couple reasons. Number one, the fact that our current chairman of the board and our CEO, he founded the company and this is a true story, he was at Yale and he wrote a paper on the concept of why can’t we move packages like we move people and that whole hub and spoke with the airlines. He wrote this paper, he got a C minus, they said this will never work.

Goldy Hyder:
Actually, what would have happened if he [crosstalk 00:04:22]-

Lisa Lisson:
Oh my… we wouldn’t be here right now Goldy I’ll tell you that right now, but what I love about this story about Fred Smith is that he had all these naysayers telling him this will never work. One of the things that I’ve learned in life is that if you believe in something and you’re passionate about it, where there’s a will there’s a way, and it has to start from within and believing is so important, so I read this story and I thought wow. In addition, he was talking about the importance of culture and way back when he established the culture immediately with FedEx, which is people, service and profit and he says it’s a three-legged stool. And that if you treat your people with trust and respect, they will then provide exceptional service to your customers, which and then will turn provide profit to your shareholders and allow you to reinvest back in your people.

Lisa Lisson:
But like any stool, if one of those legs becomes out of balance, if you put too much focus on the finance and not enough on the people, the stool will tip over. Well, I was so impressed by this that I decided I have to work at this company. So I thought how am I going to go about doing this? How am I going to create my own unique value proposition, which I teach a lot of young university students when they’re going out in the world, you’ve got to find a way to make a difference. So I decided I was going to show up at FedEx, I researched who was the director of marketing and who was the assistant.

Goldy Hyder:
Wait a minute, how old back then?

Lisa Lisson:
Oh gosh, well that was 28 years ago. So my early twenties and I showed up and I went to the front desk and I said “Is Peggy Toll here?” She was the receptionist of the director of marketing. They said, absolutely we’ll bring her out. She came out and I handed her my resume and I said “Peggy, I’m really interested in working at FedEx, would you be so kind to turn my resume into Kathy the director of marketing, thank you for agreeing to take this”. And I said, she said” oh, it would be my pleasure” and I said “Peggy, do you have any children?” She’s like oh, I’ve got a daughter who is just in third year. I said, “I hope when your daughter goes to apply for a job that she finds someone as kind and as nice as you are”. So she took my resume in and the next day I sent Peggy flowers. Three days later, the director came out to Peggy and said I just got approval to hire a new entry level marketing person and Peggy said of all the resumes she grabbed mine and said I got a gal for you and Goldy that was 28 years ago.

Goldy Hyder:
Here we are.

Lisa Lisson:
And here we are.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, it’s a great story and I think it captures in many ways the culture that you spoke up to, right?

Lisa Lisson:
Indeed.

Goldy Hyder:
Which is about drive and on that entrepreneurial spirit. Now, let’s talk a little bit about Federal Express itself now, the FedEx, the company that you’re responsible for. How many employees? How many packages do you move in a year? How many locations? Give us the data?

Lisa Lisson:
Sure, absolutely. So for FedEx Canada, we have about 8,000 employees. We’re over 70 locations coast to coast across Canada and we’re part of a global network. We are the world’s largest air cargo network in the world and, Goldy, we move over 6 million packages a day. So it’s quite impressive, we have over 400,000 employees worldwide.

Goldy Hyder:
Now, your journey hasn’t been a straight line, you’ve had a lot of challenges and adversity in your life and I want you to talk about the book that you wrote, “Resilience: Navigating Life, Loss and the Road to Success”. When we see that title, what occurs to you is that it’s not too often we see in the same sentence loss and success.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes.

Goldy Hyder:
Why did you choose that title?

Lisa Lisson:
Well, the reason why I chose the title for this book is that I had to learn through the journey that, as you mentioned, it wasn’t a very straight journey for me to –

Goldy Hyder:
Let’s talk about that and talk about the loss and let’s talk about the success.

Lisa Lisson:
Sure, absolutely. So basically, as I was working my way up through FedEx, I became a Vice President of marketing and customer service and IT, so I had a pretty big portfolio and my husband and I, we go up North in the summer, we had four children at the time, nine, seven, five, and three, three girls and a boy.

Goldy Hyder:
And the time being August 2007.

Lisa Lisson:
It was… correct, August 2007 and we had just come back from the cottage. It was a Sunday, bring the kids to bed and I wake up in the middle of the night to a very loud –

Goldy Hyder:
Thud.

Lisa Lisson:
Thud, loud noise in the room and my husband was not beside me, and I noticed he was on the floor, but we found out that he had suffered a heart attack. Luckily we were able to get a pulse back and I spent the next two years with him in a vegetative state, hoping for a miracle that never came.

Goldy Hyder:
So they tell you look, he’s likely not coming back.

Lisa Lisson:
Yeah, so what –

Goldy Hyder:
He had a living will, telling you not to keep him alive.

Lisa Lisson:
Correct.

Goldy Hyder:
And you went to the doctor and what did you say to the doctor?

Lisa Lisson:
Well, when he had his heart attack they said his brain was without oxygen for quite some time, so we’re going to put him in a drug induced coma for a week and then try and wake him up. So when they went to try and wake him up, he wasn’t coming around, he was his eyes were open, but he wasn’t responsive in any way. The team of doctors said there is no chance for a meaningful life and he did have a will, which said do not prolong a life that’s not worth living.

Goldy Hyder:
No one would assume he had… assume he would be 90 when this –

Lisa Lisson:
Correct, exactly. You think we’re 80, 90, but not at 38. And so I looked at this team of doctors and I asked one very important question which was do miracles happen in this hospital? And of course, Goldy miracles happen every day, and they looked at me and they said yes. And I said,”Then you hook him up to whatever you need to because I need to know if I’m going to get my miracle because he would do the same for me”. So then they hooked him up and I spent the next two years researching everything I could regarding drugs to wake up the brain, so on and so forth, but because he was in a vegetative state he became very sick at the end of those two years and I had to make the tough decision to let him go and that was August 2009, two years later.

Lisa Lisson:
But what’s interesting about this is a year after he passed away, I’m still heading up North to the cottage, but rather than just having four kids, I now have four dogs because of course I had to get a dog for every child to bring some joy into the house. But a year after he passed away, I got a call from Memphis, they said the CEOs on the phone. So I picked up the phone and the CEO said congratulations and I said well, for what? He said you’re now the first Canadian, the first female to ever be President of FedEx Canada, and this was a year after my husband passed away. And you know what I said because I went into complete shock, well aren’t you going to interview me? Here he is offering me the position and I said aren’t you going to interview me?

Goldy Hyder:
Well, I suspect your life’s been that interview for them.

Lisa Lisson:
Well, you know what he said when I asked that question? He said “You’ve been interviewing for 18 years” because he’s still a mentor of mine and he always said remember, every interaction with anyone at your level or above is a mini-interview, use that time wisely. So when he said to me you’ve been interviewing for 18 years, I remember that bit of advice he got me.

Goldy Hyder:
I think that’s… those are wise words.

Lisa Lisson:
Indeed.

Goldy Hyder:
Do the job you have and you’ll get the job you want.

Lisa Lisson:
Indeed, absolutely.

Goldy Hyder:
Let’s stick with the adversity that you had to deal with at that time. So your kids witness, essentially, and well aware that their father is likely not coming back, they’re very young –

Lisa Lisson:
Very young.

Goldy Hyder:
You took a leave of absence obviously for a period of time and it was like three months or so.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes.

Goldy Hyder:
I think the question that has to be asked, how did you do it? Because clearly the focus was on him and the… who took care of you? How did you take care of you?

Lisa Lisson:
Well first of all, I’m very blessed with great parents and my mom gave me very, very important piece of advice early on and she said to me “Lisa, you have to remember something. Life is not about what happens to you, it’s about what you choose to do with what happens”. And she said “Although your life is spiraling out of control right now, remember you do have some control, you can control how you respond to this”. Those were the most profound words I think I’ve ever received in my life because it reminded me that I could control how I was going to respond.

Goldy Hyder:
When I was reading your story, I was like boy, if I were her I’d be feeling like why are you picking on me God?

Lisa Lisson:
Yes.

Goldy Hyder:
Because by the time you were 40 you had to do three eulogies.

Lisa Lisson:
I did.

Goldy Hyder:
Tell us about this.

Lisa Lisson:
Yeah. When I was in my last year of university, at 21, my father, at 47 years young, passed away of brain cancer, so I did his eulogy and then my best friend’s sister, unfortunately, was murdered and the family asked me to do the eulogy for her. And then when my husband passed away I did his eulogy, so it really taught me, Goldy, how fragile this life is, that every morning when we wake up and we open our eyes, it is a gift because nobody on this planet knows what tomorrow brings, nobody. What we can control is the 24 hours that we’re in each day and living with a completely grateful heart that our eyes open and it is a gift and so many people don’t realize how precious this life is, and each day is truly a gift and I learned that the hard way.

Goldy Hyder:
What led to you writing the book? Was it a liberating thing?

Lisa Lisson:
That’s a question, I get asked that a lot. I’ll tell you what, after I got this job and people read the article in The Globe and Mail –

Goldy Hyder:
I asked because I thought that’s what triggered it.

Lisa Lisson:
A lot of people started asking me to come to speak to their women’s groups or leadership forums to share my story because everyone has a story, a personal thing they’re dealing with, some are bigger than others and it was through the encouragement of me speaking at these women’s groups, or speaking at events that people would say you should write a book and I thought why would anyone want to hear what I had to say? Goldy I put it off for years and it finally just kept coming, I thought maybe there’s something here, maybe I should give it a try. So I did write it, it took me four years to do it, but I’ll tell you I did.

Goldy Hyder:
You were in a good place when that happened, or was this –

Lisa Lisson:
I was in a good place and it was very therapeutic for me because it allowed me to go back to those two years when he was in a vegetative state, when I was bringing him home every Sunday to go back from a position of strength and reflect on those years, number one. Number two, I wrote it because I thought if I can help one person feel that they’re not alone going through anything like I went through, would do my heart good. Number three, my kids started asking a lot of questions. They were nine, seven, five and three at the time and now they’re 22, 20,18 and my son is 15. Well, they’re asking a lot of questions about tell me when you first met dad, tell me about your relationship, how do I package that up? All those wonderful years.

Lisa Lisson:
So I answer those questions, but when I gave them the book to read they were like oh my gosh mom, this is one of the greatest gifts you’ve ever given us. So I wrote it for those reasons, for my kids, for myself, it was very therapeutic and really to help others because when you’re going through a hard time you feel so alone and what you don’t realize is there’s so many other people going through exactly what you’re going through and it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone.

Goldy Hyder:
You mentioned the sort of live 24 hour increments.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes.

Goldy Hyder:
I know that’s one of your sort of four point plan on steps to resilience.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes.

Goldy Hyder:
Take us through those steps.

Lisa Lisson:
Absolutely. So when you asked the question about how did you get through this? One of the things that I started when this first happened to me, is I was waking up in the morning saying I can’t do this, I’m never going to be happy again, why me, all those questions that naturally would come to you and what I started to realize is that it was not getting me anywhere at all. Number two, what I’ve also realized is I started to pay attention to the thoughts that I was allowing in my mind and I was doing this. I was either waking up and living in the past, thinking about when he was healthy, thinking about all of those wonderful memories we had and if I wasn’t living in the past Goldy then what I was doing is I was immediately worrying about the future.

Lisa Lisson:
My son was three and I was waking up thinking who’s going to take him to hockey practice, who’s going to walk my daughters down the aisle, they were nine, seven, five. So I realized that I was not living in the moment that I had, so I learned that the only way I’m going to get through this is to only look back in the past for a life lesson, but to not live there because I’m not going that way, and to certainly not worry about the future because that’s wasted energy and it robs us of the moment we’re in. So that’s what I started doing to get myself out of bed. The next thing I started doing is to realize how powerful our thoughts are. I’ve come to learn the most important conversation we have in life is with ourselves. It truly is. We believe what we tell ourselves, so when I was saying I’m not going to do this, I’ll never be happy, Goldy, I was quitting before I even started trying.

Lisa Lisson:
So I started telling myself I’ve got this, things are going to be better than I expected and I also started saying to myself if life can take a turn so sharply and so immediately for the worst, it can also equally take a turn –

Goldy Hyder:
Well, that call when you were in Memphis.

Lisa Lisson:
for the better and they’ll call one year later, prove that.

Goldy Hyder:
It’s a lifeline.

Lisa Lisson:
It was exactly what I needed to help me move on with my life. So those were some of the things that I started doing, living in the current moment that I was in, paying very close attention to the thoughts I was allowing in my head and also, too, what I also learned Goldy, is the power of gratitude. That was very profound for me because what I started doing is rather than focusing on his lost life, I started focusing on what I had to be grateful for, which first of all was my four children. He could have been driving me in the car when he had his heart attack, he could have been driving our kids. I mentor a lot of widows right now, quite a few of them they lost their husband before they even had a chance to start a family. So I started focusing on what I’m grateful for, not what was missing and that’s very important that we live our lives by focusing on what we have and not what’s missing because life is just too short and, as I mentioned, it’s such a gift we have to be present in the moment that we’re in.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, you’re the poster child for adversity building character. I mean, you took crisis, truly, and turned it into an opportunity.

Lisa Lisson:
Yeah. Oh, and also life lessons. What I tell people is that in life we have to focus on what we can control –

Goldy Hyder:
Correct.

Lisa Lisson:
And we have to let go of what we can and all too often –

Goldy Hyder:
Makes you sleep better, doesn’t it?

Lisa Lisson:
It does.

Goldy Hyder:
Because I have that philosophy.

Lisa Lisson:
You’re happy.

Goldy Hyder:
Focus on what you control

Lisa Lisson:
Because all too often we lose hours, days, weeks, and months focusing and obsessing over things.

Goldy Hyder:
Nevermind the damage you’re doing to your physical and mental health.

Lisa Lisson:
Exactly. That you have no control over. So when life force has hit me whether it’s at work or in my personal life, I say can I control or influence this? The answer is yes, I find out what it is. If the answer is no, I let it go.

Goldy Hyder:
Let it go.

Lisa Lisson:
I always say this, my three favorite words after I love you are let it go. It’s so important because it can be such a time waster. So with Patrick and everything I was going through, I could not control it, so then what I started saying is I can not control it, I have to let it go but what is the life lesson I can learn? I tell people both personally and professionally, when you have a life force that hits you unexpectedly, let’s say you didn’t get the job, you wanted the promotion, your partner, whatever. I always say look for the life lessons and you will grow stronger and that’s really what –

Goldy Hyder:
And fate, if it wasn’t meant to be something else is going to happen.

Lisa Lisson:
It is and that’s what I always tell my kids, if this didn’t happen it wasn’t meant to be and that’s really the definition, Goldy, of resilience. Resilience is defined as bouncing back from a life force that hits you stronger than when you started and how you do that is you look for the life lessons in whatever hit you and you will grow stronger and you will build your resilience muscle, which we are all born with.

Goldy Hyder:
Now, I’m going to confess to something. I grew up a big fan of The Brady Bunch, I probably lost half of my listeners right now saying what? You had your own Brady Bunch, you were living it day to day, except those six boxes were filled with six brothers and you were the seventh and you were the second oldest I think.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes.

Goldy Hyder:
What role did that play in terms of who you are as a person and who you are as a leader and who you are as a mom?

Lisa Lisson:
Absolutely. So six brothers, so I come from a very large family and I always knew I wanted to have four kids, but you know what I learned about growing up with six brothers is that I learned to have tough skin because with six brothers if we were out wrestling in the backyard –

Goldy Hyder:
You had no choice to be a tomboy.

Lisa Lisson:
I had to be a tomboy because I had to keep up with my brothers. I always say that if I wanted to have a second helping at the dinner table, I had to learn to eat real fast because they would always beat me to the second.

Goldy Hyder:
The meat would be all gone.

Lisa Lisson:
That’s right. So I think just growing up with all these brothers really taught me thick skin, taught me to suck things up and just not take things personally as well, and to be… just to be a strong human being. And so I learned a lot from my brothers and I think it helped shaped who I am today.

Goldy Hyder:
Let’s talk about your role now here. It’s I believe 10th anniversary coming up as CEO.

Lisa Lisson:
That’s correct, yes.

Goldy Hyder:
I want to ask you because a lot happens these days and it happens fast. Do you ever just look back and kind of think what a journey, celebrate the highs, reflect on the lows. Do you get a chance to do that as you approach such a milestone like this?

Lisa Lisson:
I do. One of the things, Goldy, that I do that’s very important that I will say I do today and also help me manage raising four kids by myself, taking care of Patrick when he was sick, doing this job, is that I’m a firm believer in carving out white space on the calendar. Firm believer, both personally and professionally. So what I did right when Patrick was sick, is I knew that I had to carve out some time for me where I wasn’t a caregiver, I wasn’t a mom, I wasn’t a leader. So I started carving out white space on my calendar personally, whether it’s to go quietly and read a book, exercise. I mean, I do not like exercising, I always say I only run if someone’s chasing me, but it’s important to carve out exercise. I think it’s good for the mind, body and soul, but equally important Goldy it’s important to carve out white space at work. So I carve out between three and five hours a week where I’m not in a meeting, I’m not in the phone and I pause and reflect. I will look at am I achieving what I want to be achieving with the company? Am I –

Goldy Hyder:
On your own you do this?

Lisa Lisson:
On my own, three to five hours a week I’ll reflect on the past meetings saying… because my dad always said we’re born with two ears and one mouth for a reason, we need to listen twice as much as we talk. So I’ll reflect back on meetings, was I listening wise? Was I asking probing questions? Was I staying curious? So, coming up to this –

Goldy Hyder:
It’s a discipline.

Lisa Lisson:
It’s a discipline.

Goldy Hyder:
It’s a rigour for you.

Lisa Lisson:
And it’s so helpful to get off the Ferris wheel of life, to just… and you know what it is, it’s resting our brain. We spend so much time on our diet –

Goldy Hyder:
Especially now.

Lisa Lisson:
So much time on our diet, so much time on exercise, but most important thing in our body is our brain and how much time do we spend taking care of it by being mindful of our thoughts, by taking these pause and reflect time. So I will definitely have some good pause and reflection as I’m coming up 10 years in this role in September.

Goldy Hyder:
Well you have a lot to celebrate, don’t you?

Lisa Lisson:
Yeah. Thank you, yes. I’m grateful for the team because I always believe that, as a leader, our title does not define us, it’s an enabler to help others and I’m only successful if my team is. So I am grateful for the past 10 years to be able to work with such a fantastic team. I will also say this, it’s so important for CEOs to stay in touch with the frontline employees. I always say the best ideas truly do come for those employees that are interacting with your customers every single day. So one of the things that we do here is we do town halls twice a year, where every single station across Canada, all 8,000 employees have either myself, a vice president or a director out in the field talking to our frontline staff. What’s working, what’s not working, how can we be better? They will share with us all the things that they hear and see, and we bring that back into shaping our strategy. So how we manage all of this change and uncertainty that’s going on, you stay really connected to your frontline employees at the best pulse of what’s happening in your business.

Goldy Hyder:
Tell us the story behind how you ended up on Undercover Boss.

Lisa Lisson:
Yeah, it’s actually a great story. So when I got this job, The Globe and Mail sends out a reporter for new CEOs when they get to their position and they go out and interview them, they just do a little column. So they sent out the reporter to come meet with me and does a little interview and as he was on his way out, he turned around and said to me when the interview was done, did you have any adversity or tragedy, or anything happen to you on your way to the top? And I said “Well, how much time do you have? Because my husband as you know, just had passed away a year ago after being in a vegetative state”. Well, the reporter came back in and we spent an hour together and then the next thing that happened was rather than this little column, I made the front page of the Report on Business in The Globe and Mail.

Lisa Lisson:
Because of that article, the people that produce Undercover Boss in Canada, read the article and the story. And they were just negotiating to bring it to Canada and the gentleman who was in charge cut out the article, he put it on his board and said I need her to be in my show. So once they got all of the deal done, they called me and said we read your article, we would love you to be in Undercover Boss, would you please consider this? So it was because of just me sharing my story of what I went through in my personal loss that really intrigued the gentleman that was responsible.

Goldy Hyder:
How did that go?

Lisa Lisson:
You know what? It went extremely well. My team really talked me into doing it, I’m very grateful and I’ll tell you why.

Goldy Hyder:
The disguise.

Lisa Lisson:
Oh, they did a good job, disguise me and my staff really didn’t know who I was, but I’ll tell you why I loved it so much. When I show up at a station and I’m, you know, be in my courier uniform and I just want to walk the bell or talk to my employees, they’re like “oh, she’s the president, oh she’s the president” and even though I try to be as approachable as I possibly can, they just see that title. What Undercover Boss gave me was I was able to go work side by side with my staff as a person, to a person. They didn’t know who I was, so I was able to really get to know my staff on a whole new level because that title wasn’t there as a barrier, if you will, and that is the greatest gift that Undercover Boss gave.

Goldy Hyder:
You didn’t ask them what they thought of the CEO, did you?

Lisa Lisson:
I did not, but it was very tempting I tell you. It was very tempting.

Goldy Hyder:
I’m sure it was. Oh, she’s a piece of work let me tell you. I think it’s important that you get real experience because you can get into the silo and the bubble and you miss out.

Lisa Lisson:
You can’t manage a company from the corner office.

Goldy Hyder:
No.

Lisa Lisson:
You just can’t.

Goldy Hyder:
That was a great story there, I think there’s a lot of lessons that I think people will grapple with. Now, one of the things people are grappling with, especially CEOs are grappling with and I touched on it here is all that disruption from drones to artificial intelligence, how is this business going to change?

Lisa Lisson:
Oh, absolutely. So we’re currently doing some pilots with drones on deliveries. We recently launched something called Roxo, it’s an autonomous delivery bot, if you will, that we’re doing some pilots in the U.S. to deliver in some residential areas. We are testing autonomous tugs in our ramps, we’re looking at automated hubs, if you will. So technology, if you think about how much technology has changed in the past five years, I can’t imagine how much it’s going to change in the next five years and those companies that are not embracing technology to become more efficient, more competitive are going to fall behind. So we’re testing so much technology right now in the business to make sure that we can stay ahead. And also too, we’ve got… companies have more data now than they’ve ever had before, we’ve got so much data.

Lisa Lisson:
We have to find a way to use the data that’s most meaningful to help improve the customer experience, understand customer behaviour. So we’re really embracing a whole new data strategy on making sure that we’re using the right data to help make better decisions and it’s very important because you can get caught up in the paralysis of analysis of looking at data over and over again. So I’m really trying to gear my team towards what data is meaningful, that will help us to make a decision. I call it the so what data, so what?

Goldy Hyder:
Why does it matter?

Lisa Lisson:
Why does it matter? And so it’s really helping us. So don’t bring data into the staff meetings if there’s no –

Goldy Hyder:
Purpose.

Lisa Lisson:
Purpose. And so it’s very important and that’s one of the big things that we need to do to make sure we stay competitive.

Goldy Hyder:
You talk about the things that you’re doing to manage this transition and the disruption that’s taking place. I’m wondering, given that you have counterparts around the world, you’re part of a major global company, how is Canada perceived by others around the world? Are there advantages to being Canadian? Are we early adopters of technology? Is this a great place for pilots? Where do we sit in this equation that is FedEx around the world?

Lisa Lisson:
Yeah. So what I can say about Canada is we’re certainly not the largest region for FedEx, but what I always say is we’re small, but we’re mighty.

Goldy Hyder:
Mighty.

Lisa Lisson:
We’re small, but we’re mighty and so one of the great things is that the team here in Canada is very long tenured. So it’s almost like we’re a family together and so how we’re perceived as small, but mighty, we have many different FedEx operating companies here in Canada. So we are a great test pilot to try new things but what I can say is that we’ve got a fantastic IT team here in Canada and with Toronto here and all of the great technology companies that have been established here, what we’ve been able to do is to create some applications that actually have been now being rolled out around the world. So we’re –

Goldy Hyder:
We’re an incubator.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes and what we’re also known for is that we continue to win best employer award in Canada, we continue to rank very high on reputation in the transportation industry. So we’re viewed as being a very well run company that, like I said, we’re small, but we’re mighty. In fact, Canada was the first region to open up after the United States. So as soon as they got up and running –

Goldy Hyder:
Seems rather natural but yeah.

Lisa Lisson:
Yeah, they said let’s set up to Canada and let’s get going up there.

Goldy Hyder:
I think you would agree that the one constant we’re all managing now is change.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes.

Goldy Hyder:
And so in that rapidly changing environment, let’s talk to young people, maybe your own kids. What advice are you giving young people today and how to manage and to get ready to identify the… who they’re going to give the flowers to get their entry. What advice do you have for young people?

Lisa Lisson:
Well, one of the things I say that do speak to a lot of young people is that you have to create what’s your own, what’s your value proposition? What’s your own unique personal brand? So when you’re going in to apply online for a job, try and find a way to do something to stand out. So phone the head office of the company, find out who the person is that you’re trying to get the job.

Goldy Hyder:
Do some homework.

Lisa Lisson:
Do some homework.

Goldy Hyder:
Do you know I still get Ms. Goldy Hyder in my letters.

Lisa Lisson:
There you go.

Goldy Hyder:
I’m thinking, throw that CV away.

Lisa Lisson:
Yes. I get people trying to pitch me things, Goldy, and send me things via our competition to here. So I tell them –

Goldy Hyder:
Well, I guess they got your attention.

Lisa Lisson:
They certainly did, but it doesn’t go very far. But telling young people do your research, do your homework, try and find a way to stand out.

Goldy Hyder:
There is no excuse today.

Lisa Lisson:
There isn’t. But also too, I always say knowledge is power and I tell people the power of reading and researching is so important. I teach my kids to read all the time. So whenever you’re having trouble, or an issue, there’s so much information. I would say Google’s my best friend, if I’m struggling with something, I go to Google, the answer is right there and so many people struggle with life on a situation or what they’re dealing with and they just need to go out and research, go online and find the answers because knowledge is power and knowledge brings confidence and it’ll also help the younger people to deal with change.

Lisa Lisson:
So if they’re dealing with a rapid change of something that they’re having a hard time struggling, go Google, how do I deal with change? What are the top three things that will help me navigate through this time that I’m dealing with that’s turbulent? So that’s what I tell them is research, do your homework, don’t feel paralyzed in your own life when there’s so much information at your fingertips to help you be the most successful person you can be in life. And that’s truly, other than my mentors, reading and researching, planning, preparing, truly got me where I am today.

Goldy Hyder:
So what are you reading right now?

Lisa Lisson:
One of the books we just finished, it’s a great book and it’s called The Founder’s Mentality and it’s a really good book. And what this does is that, for big companies like ourselves, we’re the international market share leader out of Canada, so it’s like where do we get that next bit of growth? Because when you’re the market share leader it’s hard to find that next chunk of growth and this is a great book and it talks about for large companies or even maybe smaller medium companies, when your growth is stalled, you need to go back to that founders mentality, which is staying close to your customers, reducing bureaucracy. So it’s a really good book that kind of brings you back to the basics of business that sometimes we let bureaucracy and a whole bunch of other things stall or slow down growth. So it’s a book and in fact, all of my staff is reading it right now.

Goldy Hyder:
You also mentioned mentors, who are some of your mentors?

Lisa Lisson:
Oh, so I’ve got quite a few, but the gentleman that gave me this job, who’s now retired, he’s still one of my mentors. I reach out to him on a regular basis, quite a few of the members of the Business Council I’ve developed a very good relationship with, so I will call them up and say hey, I’ve got this issue that I’m dealing with, have you dealt with this at your company. Katie Taylor, who is a great friend, she’s chairman of the Royal Bank as you know, and also she’s a chair of the Sick Kids who I’m a part of. She’s a dear friend as well, so I’ll reach out to her.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s really important, isn’t it?

Lisa Lisson:
It really is.

Goldy Hyder:
That safe space.

Lisa Lisson:
You need it and it’s just to, just talk to people to say, I’m dealing with this, have you dealt with this before? Give me your playbook. I tell a lot of young people too and I did this when I was in trying to get into management I thought, what is the one thing that I can do tomorrow that I didn’t do today to get me to management? And I realized I’m going to set up meetings with the current managers and HR, finance and ask if I can buy them a coffee and ask them for their career playbook. How did you get to be a manager? What are the three things that you did? And Goldy I’ve done that my entire career, asking people for their career playbook to help me understand how I can navigate to get to where they are. It’s very, very important to do that.

Goldy Hyder:
And it often comes back to the basics, doesn’t it?

Lisa Lisson:
It really does, so many people think things are so complicated.

Goldy Hyder:
Work hard.

Lisa Lisson:
You work hard.

Goldy Hyder:
Make your luck.

Lisa Lisson:
And I also too, I tell people that what I’ve learned through all my mentors is the most successful people in life write down their goals personally and professionally. Then they talk about them with others, they carve out that white space to think about what could I do next week towards this goal that I didn’t do this week and they visualize the success.

Goldy Hyder:
Mission, vision, strategy, execution.

Lisa Lisson:
One hundred per cent but also believing because if you don’t believe that you can be the next CEO of something, it won’t happen.

Goldy Hyder:
It won’t happen.

Lisa Lisson:
You have to believe that you can get there because that believing in yourself is one of the most important things you can do because if you don’t believe in yourself, why would anyone believe in you?

Goldy Hyder:
You mentioned SickKids. I know you to be very passionate about philanthropy and of a company to have a very strong footprint in philanthropy. Tell us some of the things that you and/or the company are involved with and mean a lot to you.

Lisa Lisson:
Absolutely. So as I mentioned, I’m on the board of SickKids. I’ve been there for I think nine years and I chair the Human Resource and Compensation committee and I always tell people, including my children, if you think you’re having a tough day, come spend a day with me at SickKids. It is grounding beyond and with FedEx we do quite a lot, we do a lot in terms of humanitarian. We’ve got tragedies around the world, whether it’s an earthquake here that we will donate our planes to fly relief goods and it’s something that we’re very proud of. We work with many different agencies, we partner up with Tree Canada from environmental perspective that we talked about, about trying to plant more trees, particularly a lot of the schools are just like the asphalt with no trees whatsoever for shade.

Lisa Lisson:
We do another charity called Operation Warm, which provides warm coats to children that can’t afford coats, particularly in our harsh winter. We partner up with Safe Kids. So there’s many, many junior achievement. It’s like so many companies, it’s so important FedEx plays, it’s so important to give back in the communities where we work and we live and we serve every single day. So those are just a few of many of the charities that we’re –

Goldy Hyder:
I know you also care a lot about gender issues.

Lisa Lisson:
Indeed.

Goldy Hyder:
Mental health issues. What advice are you giving those that are dealing with some of these challenges and how is it impacting you as a leader given what you’ve been through yourself?

Lisa Lisson:
Absolutely. So I think it’s very important for all companies no matter how big or small to have a diversity and inclusion committee strategy involvement and that’s something we’re very, very proud of here at FedEx, that we have that. It’s also very important for companies to invest in mental health initiatives and we’ve really increased our focus in this area. For example, we’ve partnered with many different companies on this, but one of the things we’ve done is we’ve had every single manager and above go through what we’re calling mental health training. They actually have to write a quiz and pass, but we’re teaching managers to understand that you never know what someone is dealing with behind the scenes and to look for triggers if someone’s coming in and they seem off just to say are you okay? Is there that you need? So we’ve spent a lot of time and energy on mental health. So I think it’s one in five Canadians is affected by mental health in some way. So it’s very, very important I think the company do diversity and inclusion and mental health. Those two things as far as I’m concerned Goldy, need to be just as important as a time you’re spending on culture work.

Goldy Hyder:
Obviously what you’ve gone through in your life has really shaped you to be who you are. How has it shaped your kids? Where are they? What are they doing? Are they writing books too?

Lisa Lisson:
My oldest daughter will be graduating from University of Toronto this year and she’s getting a degree in marketing, so just like her mom.

Goldy Hyder:
That apple didn’t fall from the tree.

Lisa Lisson:
There we go. My second daughter, she is in her third year at Western in the MIT program, very, very proud of her. My third daughter, she has taken a year off, she just graduated from high school last year and she knows she doesn’t want to go in business like her mom or do marketing like her sister, she’s my little free spirit.

Goldy Hyder:
Found the rebel, did we?

Lisa Lisson:
And I… I sure did. But I think it’s important to not force children into something that they don’t want to do just because you want to do it. She’s my little free spirit, so we’re taking a year off to try and help her find her way, but we as parents, we can’t force –

Goldy Hyder:
I probably bet on her by the way.

Lisa Lisson:
There you go, everyone thinks she’s going to be the most successful is what they’re saying, but as parents we can’t force our children to do something that they don’t want to do.

Goldy Hyder:
Things are changing for these kids every day.

Lisa Lisson:
It really is. So now we’re just looking at some options for her, for the fall and then my son is in grade 10, but I’m super proud of him. My husband was a very good golfer and my son made the U19 golf team at Glen Abbey and he is a incredible golfer, just like his dad and I’m so grateful because he is the absolute mirror image of my husband. So I’m getting to see what my husband would look like before we met and certainly as Jack gets older just to see him grow, but he’s exactly like my husband in every beautiful way possible and for that I’m deeply grateful.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s very special and I can tell why you’re so proud.

Lisa Lisson:
Indeed.

Goldy Hyder:
Now, one of your childhood heroes is your mom’s grandmother.

Lisa Lisson:
Correct.

Goldy Hyder:
So if I got that right, makes her your great grandma.

Lisa Lisson:
Correct.

Goldy Hyder:
So tell us about her and why, in particular, did you admire her because it’s a long ways from great grandma to being a great grand child.

Lisa Lisson:
It sure is. What I admired about her are many things, but she outlived both of her children. Her daughter died of cancer and her son at 21 died in the Navy and he died of an accidental death on one of the ships. You’re not supposed to outlive your children and she outlived her two children, but it never –

Goldy Hyder:
Was a bond of adversity it sounds.

Lisa Lisson:
There is and it never stole her zest for life. She… when tragedy happens to some people, some people let that consume their life and they go from rather than just living life, they’re existing through it, She never did that. She realized as horrible as it was she still had so many things to be grateful for, so she also at a young age, taught me about the power of gratitude. One of her favorite sayings, Gold, was onwards and upwards, Lisa, onwards and upwards meaning don’t look back, we’re not going that way. So I learned some of these lessons when I was young, not realizing how important and valuable that they would be to help me deal with my adversity when it hit me.

Goldy Hyder:
What are you most proud of?

Lisa Lisson:
I am most proud of my kids because they have been pretty much raised without a father and I do my best. Obviously I’m very busy with my job and I’m most proud of the fact that they’ve turned out to be fantastic children. I’ve raised them to be very grateful, I’ve raised them to learn about resilience, that things don’t always go our way, but we have to look for those life lessons and believe brighter days are ahead and I’m just a proud of the wonderful human beings they’ve become. They try, Goldy, to take care of me as much as I do them.

Goldy Hyder:
Can I ask you to end the podcast with the story of how you met Patrick?

Lisa Lisson:
Yes. I was at an all girls school and my parents pulled me out in grade eight and said, we want you to go to kind of a co-ed school to try it for grade nine, if you don’t like it you can go back. Well, I was devastated because I loved the school I was in, it was very structured. So I went off to this coed school in Burlington and I sitting in the classroom and Patrick walks in and I look at him…

Goldy Hyder:
Love at first sight.

Lisa Lisson:
It truly was. Some people believe in it, some people don’t, because I experienced it I believe in it. I looked in his eyes and he looked at mine, I thought oh my goodness, it was the butterflies. And he sat down beside me and he kind of smiled, I smiled back and at the time, Goldy, I had braces on top of braces, I tell you. And he looked over at me and he said “Can I ask you a question?” I said “Sure”. He said “How could they get those silver things to stay on your teeth?” And I thought oh my goodness, I’m devastated.

Goldy Hyder:
Only a boy would ask that question.

Lisa Lisson:
Only a boy would ask that. And Goldy, the rest is history. We were together ever since and he had some adversity as well. His mother passed away of brain cancer like my father. That’s a one per cent of the population gets glioblastoma. I lose my dad and then Patrick and I get engaged in the fall after university a couple of years later and then right after we got engaged, his mother gets diagnosed with glioblastoma. So I quickly planned a wedding in January and no one in Canada gets married in January, but I pulled a wedding together in under three months, so she could dance with her son at the wedding and then three months later she passed away. So Patrick and I had a very special bond from meeting in grade nine all the way up until he passed away and I’m grateful for all those wonderful years that we spent together and the four beautiful children we had.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, I suspect he looks down on you daily and is really proud.

Lisa Lisson:
Well, thank you.

Goldy Hyder:
Of you and your family. They say that adversity builds character and you my friend have a lot of character.

Lisa Lisson:
Well, thank you. I appreciate that very much.

Goldy Hyder:
Thank you for doing this.

Lisa Lisson:
Thank you for having me.

Goldy Hyder:
Thanks again to Lisa Lisson for being my guest on this episode of Speaking of Business. As I mentioned, we spoke earlier this year before the COVID-19 crisis, but I hope you found her story as inspiring as I did. This wraps up our Speaking of Business podcast series for this season, I hope you had a chance to listen to our other conversations. Search speaking of business, wherever you find podcasts, or simply visit our website SpeakingOfBiz.ca, that’s biz with a zed to join our email list and follow us on social media. Until next time I’m Goldy Hyder, thanks for joining us. Stay safe.

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, we’ve temporarily suspended our regularly scheduled series of conversations with Canadian CEOs. But we’re not going away. Instead, we’re going to pivot to the health emergency itself. We’re going to explore the impact on companies and workers across the country. And we’re going to find out how business leaders are responding to crisis.

“Each day is truly a gift.” Lisa Lisson, President of Federal Express Canada

Over the past few months we’ve heard from many business leaders as they have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Guests on this podcast have told us how they have overcome unique challenges and we’ve heard about the many ways corporate Canada has supported communities through the crisis. 

Today, in our final podcast of the season, we’re continuing on the theme of leadership and resilience … but this time the story is much more personal.

Ten years ago Lisa Lisson was named President of Federal Express Canada – the first woman and the first Canadian to head the company. She’d worked her way from the ground floor to the corner office – but just as her career was catching fire, she suffered a devastating personal loss that would have frankly stopped many people in their tracks. Instead, Lisa channelled her grief into an inspiring memoir and has gone on to help countless others deal with life’s challenges.

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