The Bank of Canada’s CIO picks the perfect film for IT leaders

A recent Q&A with Sylvain Chalut touched on both the professional and the personal. Here’s what his peers could learn

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CIO motivation

He’s up at 5 a.m. and his workday can stretch anywhere from until 6:30 pm to midnight, which no doubt gives Sylvain Chalut plenty of time to think about how his work as a CIO is perceived within the Bank of Canada.

Bank of Canada CIO

Sylvain Chalut,
Bank of Canada

Earlier this summer a site called The Business Value Exchange published an interview of sorts with Chalut, which was modelled after the “Proust Questionnaire” featured every month in the back of Vanity Fair magazine. Along with some hard-hitting business topics about spending (“I would try to wake up,” he responds bluntly when asked what would happen if he were unconstrained by his IT budget) and whether or not to allow a choice of mobile devices on the corporate network (the answer, in his case, is yes), the interviewer also asked a number of personal things which might be even more revealing.

As his favourite film, for example, Chalut chose the holiday perennial classic It’s A Wonderful Life. For those few people who have managed to avoid repeats of the movie on network TV each December, it’s a story directed by Frank Capra that features James Stewart as a frustrated businessman. His character, George Baily, is shown by an Angel what the world might have been like had he never been born.

That basic premise has a lot more resonance for CIOs when you take a deeper look at the plotline. George doesn’t wind up contemplating this alternate universe because he’s a chronic complainer who feels unappreciated. Instead, he finds himself caught in the middle of a business failure for which he is sure he will be blamed. He thinks he might face jail time. Suicide seems like the only option until the angel reminds him of how much he has given to his family, his business and his community as a whole. He decides to man up and work things out.

This scenario might be the CIO’s dilemma taken to the ultimate extreme. I’m not suggesting Chalut is subconsciously reading these things into the movie — hopefully he is never embroiled in an IT project that makes him feel that level of despair — but there are plenty of day-to-day challenges that probably make technology leaders wonder why they keep forging on. Chalut, who describes himself in the Q&A as an optimist, demonstrates by his answers how a positive attitude can keep even the most pressured business executives motivated.

For instance, Chalut says he would absolutely recommend seeking the kind of work he does, “because (as a CIO) you get involved in every part of the business.” In his personal life, he eagerly embraces change, “always trying to go to a new destination every time” rather than revisit the same old vacation spots. His top priorities sound like those of his peers, such as ensuring connectivity for remote workers, but he doesn’t shy away from the difficulties. “We need to increase the pace of our deliveries,” he says.

Strike this kind of balance and you may, in fact, have a wonderful life. Or at least a wonderful career in IT management.


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