Home Month and Year December 2023 Curtis Stange and the Power of Possibility

Curtis Stange and the Power of Possibility

The President & CEO of ATB Financial has a unique outlook on life and his role as a leader

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Curtis Stange, President & CEO of ATB Financial. Photo by Riverwood Photography.

It’s a familiar story. The high school years are coming to a close and it’s time to think about the future. For Curtis Stange, CEO and President of ATB Financial, that future was open to many possibilities.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” says Stange. “So, I worked a lot of jobs from selling clothes to selling tires. One thing did stand out for me. Despite being a city kid, I knew I had a strong leaning towards agriculture.”

So off he headed to the University of Saskatchewan to pursue his degree. As his studies were coming to an end, he was introduced to the idea of banking at a career day event.

“I connected with an individual who said, ‘If you don’t want to directly operate a farm, why not lend the money and support the farmers instead?’ he reminisces. “That was the start for me in one of the big banks. I stayed with the same bank for 23 years and made financial connections with farmers, farms and the agricultural industry.”

In 2009, he received a call that married his desire to return to the Prairies and continue helping the farming community through purposeful financing.

“ATB Financial reached out in July 2009,” says Stange. “As soon as I met the CEO and Board Chair, I knew they were aligned with how an institution should be run. They deeply believed in creating success for clients and stakeholders. I knew that this was a regional bank where I could make a difference in people’s lives.”

Fast forward to 2018 and he was celebrating another first day at ATB Financial – this time as its President and CEO. He remembers that day fondly.

“I remember pulling into the parking lot and walking up the stairs. Team members were crowded around me clapping and smiling. There were about 100 people there greeting me in a way that was so remarkable – I will never forget it.”

Such is the culture at ATB Financial. It celebrates its people, clients and communities. Stange is committed to the institution’s continued growth and success.

“We really have transformed and rebuilt the company from the ground up while still retaining its roots and fundamentals,” he says. “This transformation includes a bold 10-year strategy that will take us from 2020 to 2030. The strategy is brought to life by our ‘why.’ This is our purpose as a company, to make things possible for those around us. It guides and inspires us every day.”

Stange is also proud of ATB Financial’s continued presence on the Great Place to Work® Canada list; a position the company has retained for eight consecutive years, even during the pandemic.

Although he’s humble about it, Stange’s leadership is making a clear difference.

“I look at my banking career in two separate ways,” he notes. “First there was 23 years with a national bank serving diverse geographic markets. Now I am with ATB Financial, and for the last five years, being the CEO. No matter my role, I lean into everything I do with an inquisitive nature and I work hard to be accessible and transparent in all my interactions. I always try to lead by example, to be a courageous leader, help develop people around me and commit myself as a lifelong learner. During the last decade, I have learned the important skill of being vulnerable. I don’t have the right answers all the time and I am empowered by a great team and highly capable people around me.

I am so proud of the role our team members have played in helping people to thrive and businesses to grow and prosper throughout a challenging environment. I believe that by using the skills and capabilities that we have as a financial institution and by partnering with others, we can power possibilities for our clients, our team members and our communities in meaningful ways moving forward.”

That great team helped Stange keep things going during one of the greatest challenges ATB Financial faced in its 85-year history – the pandemic.

It wasn’t something the company could anticipate or prepare for and it came on suddenly; shutdowns, mandates and a flood of uncertainty. As an essential service, banks like ATB Financial remained open.

“Early in the pandemic I received a lot of direct calls from team members and even families of team members across all the branches,” says Stange. “They wanted assurances as to how we were going to keep our people safe. We reacted in a very efficient, effective and proactive way.”

The mechanism for addressing this pressing challenge was the same applied to the other external factors that affect ATB Financial: economic volatility, geopolitical events, social unrest and rapidly changing times.

“As the CEO, you are trying to move the company forward at the right pace and with the right volume of change to make sure you stay a step ahead of the competition,” explains Stange. “I am always looking forward to seeing how ATB can be sustainable in the long-term while making the right decisions in this fast-paced, volatile, complex world. Everything we do is focused on how we can provide client experiences in the most remarkable way possible to Albertans and their businesses.”

That commitment extends past banking. ATB Financial is very well known for its philanthropy, which includes sponsoring events; making donations and creating partnerships in areas like mental health, financial well-being and supporting Indigenous relations.

Stange is particularly passionate about ATB Financial’s focus on mental health.

“My wife and I are big advocates of mental health initiatives. We sit on boards and donate funds. A year before I became CEO, I was looking for a community I could really lean into. A colleague introduced me to mental health. When I started to do more research, the impact of mental illness on organizations and communities was a thread I kept on pulling. I realized it is an element in our life that isn’t talked about a lot. How could I bring it to the forefront in our own company? What was the role I could play as CEO that could make an impact on Albertans? I wanted to help reduce the stigma.”

From leading through unpreceded times to helping change the stigma of mental health in Alberta, Stange is making a difference – and he is far from done.

“I still have a lot of work to do to position ATB Financial as a competitive organization for the future. Through our Path to 2030, our focus is on bringing our purpose and strategy to life. We want to help raise the well-being of Albertans broadly. With highly passionate people, through and beyond banking, we can make an incredible difference in the lives around us. That means, I have a lot of work to do personally and professionally.”

He knows it is worth the time and effort.

“The Alberta advantage is that we are entrepreneurial, hardworking, passionate, risk-taking people. The new advantage is the increase of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. That is powerful for the province. Another growing advantage is the economic diversity Alberta is leveraging.

When I first became CEO, there was talk of the need for diversifying. Now Alberta is more technically advanced, working towards cleaner energy and making great strides in aerospace, transportation, logistics, value-added agriculture, life sciences, bio-tech, medical… the list goes on and on. These are formidable industries.”

He continues, “Alberta is clearly in a growth phase, accelerated by an abundance of skillful people moving into the province. Over the short-term, economics, interest rates and combating inflation will create volatile conditions, but in the long-term, we are in a growth phase. ATB Financial will be there as it has been there for 85 years. No bank can compete with us when it comes to truly understanding the Alberta economic and business landscape.”

As he looks back on his career, Stange points out, “I’ve been surrounded by incredible people at home, at work and in the business community. My wife Shannon has been incredibly supportive through my whole career, and so has my leadership team and the Board of Directors. I’ve been surrounded by a village in my time as CEO.”

Stange smiles as he draws a final conclusion about his life, his work, and his mission at ATB Financial.

“I know that purpose is powerful. Find your purpose and align yourself with organizations that are purpose driven. Leaders will be remembered for how they treat their teams and look after communities. Profit will follow from that.”

Learn more about atb.com, and on Facebook, Instagram, X, LinkedIn and YouTube.

 

ATB Financial at a Glance

ATB Financial is a leading financial institution headquartered in Western Canada that is consistently named as one of the best workplaces in Canada and one of the top financial institutions in the country when it comes to differentiating on client experience through its people.

ATB Financial provides tailored solutions and advice to 800,000+ clients in Alberta across its Personal and Business Banking, ATB Wealth Management and ATB Capital Markets businesses. ATB Financial offers expert advice, services and products through its many branches and agencies, 24-hour Client Care Centre, four entrepreneur centres and digital banking options.

ATB Financial wrapped up its most recent fiscal year with record results, which is a sign of positive momentum returning to Alberta’s economy.

 

Curtis Stange Shares His Thoughts on Leadership 

Counter Volatility with Vision: We need to accept and embrace change as a constant, while being clear about the kind of city, business and organization we want to be.

Meet Uncertainty with Understanding: Our communities are filled with diverse people with diverse ideas and experiences. Landed immigrants comprised a record 29.3% (or 776,000) of Alberta’s labour force in September 2023. If we pause to listen and look around, we can understand and develop new ways of thinking and acting.

React to Complexity with Clarity: We need to communicate clearly to help those around us understand how to react and what to do when the world moves quickly.

Fight Ambiguity with Adaptability: As leaders, we need to promote flexibility, adaptability and agility. Plan ahead but build in contingency time and be prepared to alter your plans as events unfold.

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