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National Bank’s Sean St. John: Why Living Well-Rounded Life Matters to this Executive

Although Sean St. John has spent 25 years building a successful career in banking and finance, the business leader also values his outside pursuits, striving for a well-balanced life. Born in Ottawa, St. John now works in Toronto, Ontario as an executive at National Bank Financial.

At National Bank, Sean St. John serves as the Executive Vice President, Co-Head of Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities Group.. In addition to his professional work, St. John is a devoted philanthropist, dedicating his time and expertise to organizations such as Right To Play, the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, Children’s Aid and the United Way.

We recently sat down with Sean St. John to discuss his career trajectory, his philanthropic efforts and how he finds balance in his busy life.

How did you begin your career in financial markets? 

SEAN ST. JOHN: When I was in university, I had a good friend whose father was a stock trader and took time to meet with me. At the meeting, a colleague of his said to me “You know what the best part of this job is, Sean? Every day is game day.” It was like a lightning bolt for me. I went back to school, called my dad and told him, “Hey, I’m going to be a trader. You know why? Because everyday is game day.” That chance meeting was a turning point for me.

What do you most enjoy about your current role at National Bank?

SEAN ST. JOHN:  Relationships with great people provide a tremendous amount of inspiration for me, whether that is with a client or a colleague. In a sense, I have a dual role at National Bank. First, I work closely with both aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders to raise the capital they need to launch or further their businesses. It’s an honor to be trusted enough to play such a pivotal role in a person’s life. Inside the bank, I derive a great deal of satisfaction as a mentor and teammate. It becomes a cycle of success—investing in others who then are equipped to contribute to the bottom line—while they get to exercise their own gifts and talents.

What’s one trend that excites you?

SEAN ST. JOHN: Artificial intelligence. The past few years have seen a flurry of activity in machine-based technology, from self-driving cars to the use of drones and other robotic entities. While science fiction often portrays AI as robots with human-like characteristics, AI can encompass anything from data collection to improve electronic trading to prioritizing news to help in trading decisions.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

SEAN ST. JOHN: The strategy that helps us grow our business is hiring the right people who bring in energy and a growth mindset. Teamwork is crucial in developing ideas: We brainstorm as a team until we feel we have found the right idea. It’s the commitment, excitement and dedication to a common strategy that leads to success – a coordinated strategy.

Tell us why you are so involved in community outreach.

SEAN ST. JOHN: I think a lot of people engulf themselves in work, tending to neglect life outside of the office. Taking time to help others in the community—getting involved— is part of a full life. Making family the priority, being involved in the community, and taking time for me, has improved my energy and focus.

Can you speak about a couple of the charities you support?

SEAN ST. JOHN: I am proud to support the Tech4Good Hockey Tournament that raises funds for Connected North – a breakthrough program that delivers education and youth mental health and wellness services to students in Indigenous communities in Canada’s remote north.

I’ve also chaired the annual Scotiabank Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer event since 2011. Last year, we raised $2.7 million to support cutting-edge cancer research for the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. This event allowed us to play this country’s national sport with our industry friends while raising funds for a world-class institution that’s transforming cancer care for Canadians.

How do you find balance in your personal life?

Well, I schedule my day to optimize my natural rhythm and allow for time with my son. I’ll start the day morning with meditation, followed by a workout with a personal trainer. Then I try to be at my desk by 8. I schedule most of my meetings during breakfast and lunch, leaving the evenings free. I’m a single dad, so some days I leave work early to see my son play hockey. Thanks to technology, of course, I can keep in touch with the office. There are a few other interests I enjoy outside of work: sports, music and cottage life. I take weekly guitar and golf lessons with my son and we do spend a lot of time at the cottage, with friends from both Toronto and Haliburton.

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