Executive Spotlight: Beth Horowitz, American Express Canada Inc.

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Beth Horowitz served as president and general manager of American Express Canada Inc. and president and CEO of American Express Bank of Canada from 2002 until April of 2007. She led the Canadian executive team and directly managed the card and insurance and financial services areas for consumers and small businesses. During her 22-year career with American Express, Ms. Horowitz held several leadership positions in the United States and also in London, before relocating to Toronto. She also served as co-chair of the American Express Canada Diversity Council, which led the introduction of back-up child care in their Markham office. Ms. Horowitz is active in a number of external organizations, including serving on the advisory board for the Schulich School of Business at York University, the board of trustees for the Art Gallery of Ontario, the advisory board of Catalyst Canada, and the board of governors of Junior Achievement of Central Ontario.

Throughout your 22 years at American Express, you helped the company earn placement on FORTUNE's Top 100 list. In your opinion, what elements of American Express' work/life strategy positioned the company for success? Let me preface my responses by saying that while I still identify heavily with Amex after 22 years, my knowledge may not be fully current. Amex is still developing work/life strategies, but has implemented many initiatives in different parts of our global company to address the needs of employees, including back-up child care, telecommuting, flexible scheduling, and project consulting work for people in transition points in their lives. While not all programs exist in all markets, we've made significant progress over the past few years. We have also reviewed and upgraded maternity leave and adoption leave policies in several major markets around the world. Central to these strategies is a strong view that talent is a critical competitive advantage.

American Express prides itself on having a reputation for being the "worlds most respected brand." How was American Express embedded this mission into the corporate culture? The culture reflects our core values of integrity, customer commitment, quality, personal accountability, teamwork, respect for people, will to win, and good citizenship. These values underpin our leadership and talent development strategies and guide the behavior of all employees.

"Trust" and "confidence" are other core elements of the American Express brand, and seemingly vital aspects of the contract between employer and employee. How did American Express work to instill trust and confidence in its workers? It goes back again to core values like respect for people, teamwork, and personal accountability. And it continues with conscious talent development programs at all levels of the organization. Leaders are accountable for demonstrating genuine commitment to their teams. If individuals are treated with respect, internalize their commitment to our customers, are empowered to execute their responsibilities, and feel that they have room to grow in their roles and careers, then trust is a natural and desirable outcome.

"Seeking positive change" is another cornerstone of the American Express culture. How has American Express met the challenge of the demographic change in the workforce? The company views talent as a precious commodity, and as I said before, a competitive advantage. It recognizes that the needs of colleagues change at different points in their careers and across generations. The company demonstrates its commitment by testing and rolling out new workforce flexibility programs on an ongoing basis. Feedback from employees is an important input to the process of continuous improvement. It is imperative to both understand and successfully inspire the next generation of leaders in order for Amex to continue to be successful, so this is a priority.

American Express has been recognized numerous times for its commitment to diversity. How does this commitment strengthen American Express? Talent knows no boundaries, so unless diversity is embraced, organizations are limiting the potential of individuals and the organization as a whole. The commitment to diversity is both the right thing and the smart thing to do.

How has back-up child care supported American Express' desire to 'seek positive change' and evolve with the needs of its workforce? We recognized that many of our employees were greatly inconvenienced when their regular child care arrangements fell through. In benchmarking other companies' programs, we determined that back-up child care was the right solution to meet their needs, and were delighted that American Express in the U.S. was already successfully partnering with Bright Horizons. Since the back-up child care option was implemented in Canada in January of 2007, there has been extremely positive feedback from those who have used the facility.

Now that you have stepped down from your post, what is next for you? What achievements will you now pursue? I decided to step down after five wonderful years as president and CEO of Amex Canada since I was very proud of what I was able to help the talented team at Amex accomplish, and I wanted to continue to live in Toronto rather than return to New York to take a role at our headquarters. I will now be able to devote more time to the nonprofit organizations with which I'm involved, and plan to add some corporate boards later this year. For me, this next phase is all about adding more diversity and balance to my own life while contributing more to the community. I'm delighted that Denise Pickett, my successor as president and CEO of Amex Canada, is both an incredibly accomplished leader who will take Amex to new heights of success and also serves as an excellent role model for balancing the demands of work and family life.

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About the Author
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In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands
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